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Bitter reminder in Bali

October 04, 2005

THE SUICIDE BOMBINGS on the Indonesian island of Bali on Saturday were a horrifying echo of the nightclub bombings there three years ago that killed 202 people. The supposed masterminds are the same -- and still at large. The targets again were tourists, though this time it was mostly Indonesians among the at least 22 people killed. And other nations again offered help in treating the injured and hunting those who backed the killers, assistance that was important in the past and likely will be again.

Indonesia is the world's most populous Islamic nation, where moderate Muslims hold sway and the government has remained secular. Extremist groups such as Jemaah Islamiah, the group believed responsible for the 2002 bombings as well as subsequent attacts on the Jakarta J.W. Marriott Hotel and the Australian Embassy, have little support among Indonesians.

It's unclear if Jemaah Islamiah, or a more radical faction, was responsible for Saturday night's near-simultaneous attacks at restaurants in the beach towns of Kuta and Jimbaran, 18 miles apart.

The first Bali bombings awakened Indonesia to the terrorist threat. The attacks, 13 months after 9/11, attempted to drive a wedge between the country and allies such as the United States, Britain and Australia. Instead, intelligence agencies from many nations cooperated in gathering evidence and searching for terrorists such as Hambali, a top member of both Jemaah Islamiah and Al Qaeda. Hambali was captured in Thailand in 2003 and is being held by the United States at an undisclosed location.

Saturday night's attacks come at a worrisome time for Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who has spoken out against terrorism much more strongly than his predecessor. Yudhoyono, a retired army general who was elected last year, risked political capital and a populist backlash just last week by raising government-controlled prices for gasoline and kerosene. He warned in August of the possibility of terrorist attacks in September or October, but Jakarta was considered the most likely target. The government's inability to prevent the Bali attacks shows the elusiveness of terrorists and the need for better intelligence.

Bali, a largely Hindu enclave in a Muslim nation, depends heavily on foreign tourists for its economy. Yudhoyono said Sunday that the country needed to find a way to protect soft targets such as restaurants and nightclubs from terrorists. Israel has shown that such targets can be protected much of the time, but not always, from attackers willing to sacrifice their lives. Indonesia has done a good job of capturing terrorists, putting them on trial and hardening some targets, such as hotels and embassies. The latest Bali attacks show how much more it needs to do.

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