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Southeast Asia

Terror draws a bead on business
By Richard S Ehrlich

JAKARTA - Indonesia is a monstrous security challenge, an archipelago of about 3,000 islands spread across a distance slightly longer than the United States coast to coast. Its combined land mass is almost three times the size of Texas, but Indonesia is populated by about 230 million people - nearly the same number as in the US.

On a worldwide basis, while US official and military targets remain at greatest risk, there is a growing hazard to commercial and economic targets as well. Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda, which has declared holy war on the US and its allies, has publicly called for attacks on business interests, especially such targets as oil tankers and others. Indonesia and the southern Philippines are considered to be particularly vulnerable areas.

Jemaah Islamiya (JI), the home-grown Southeast Asian ally of al-Qaeda, has also trained its sights on "soft" targets. Nightclubs, bars and hotels have been selected for revenge attacks, as was the case with the August 5 bombing of the JW Marriott hotel in Jakarta, days prior to the handing down of the death sentence on a JI perpetrator involved in the Bali bombings. The arrest last week of Riduan Isamuddin, alias Hambali, widely projected as the operational brains behind JI, could be the trigger for additional revenge attacks.

It is thus easy to understand Washington's concern in the wake of the Marriott bombing that anti-American Islamic terrorists enjoy a target-rich environment where neon signs, websites and TV advertisements highlight US corporations such as ExxonMobil, McDonald's, Nike, Monsanto and others.

"We speak American Express," beams a big, cheerful sign greeting incoming passengers in the arrival hall of Jakarta's international airport.

Easy access to US establishments, goods and services has always been a way to ensure efficiency, quality and service in Indonesia. For example, even after the suicide car bomber ripped apart the Marriott, the hotel's website continued to advertise the hotel as an ideal location near several well-known companies and also lists the distances to them, including Procter and Gamble half a kilometer away and General Electric at 1.5 kilometers. ExxonMobil, Motorola and Schlumberger are a convenient two kilometers from the Marriott, the hotel's website adds.

In the aftermath of the car bomb at the hotel, which killed at least 10 people and injured about 150 others, the US State Department issued a travel warning echoing Indonesian police, who later confirmed that the suicide bomber in the attack was from the JI.

"The Jemaah Islamiya organization, designated as a foreign terrorist organization, is an extremist group known to have cells operating in Southeast Asia, including Indonesia, and is known to have connections with al-Qaeda," the State Department warned in the wake of the bombing.

"The US government believes extremist elements may be planning additional attacks targeting US interests in Indonesia, particularly US government officials and facilities. As security is increased at official US facilities, terrorists will seek softer targets," it said.

"These may include facilities where Americans and Westerners are known to live, congregate, shop or visit, especially hotels, clubs, restaurants, shopping centers, housing compounds, transportation systems, places of worship, schools or outdoor recreation events," the State Department notice said.

In other words, virtually nowhere in Indonesia is safe anymore for US citizens or facilities that cater to them. US companies have joint ventures, representative offices, distributors or other arrangements while relying on Indonesian counterparts.

Toughening the defenses of soft US targets against the secretive, diffuse, extremist group was expected to be expensive and difficult. US companies with offices in Jakarta are involved in a host of fields, including financial, petroleum, wholesale and retail products, agriculture, automobiles, food, manufacturing, pharmaceuticals and tourism.

Amway, Avon, Bristol Meyers-Squibb and Disney sell popular household items. Arco, Caltex, ExxonMobil and other corporations are keen on extracting or processing Indonesia's bountiful oil and natural gas. Bechtel helps with construction, while Dow Chemical and Du Pont trade their products. Bank of America, Citibank and Chase Manhattan are ready for financial transactions. DaimlerChrysler and General Motors keep things rolling, while Coca-Cola and Gatorade make sure people here are refreshed.

The US meanwhile disclosed that it is inspecting the safety of airports in various major cities throughout the world to protect them against possible attacks by terrorists armed with portable missiles. "The man in charge of American military transport, General John Handy, has described the threat of such attacks as perhaps the greatest of all in the modern-day fight against global terrorism," according to the British Broadcasting Corp following the blast.

"Overseas inspections by aviation safety investigators began several weeks ago, and are being carried out in Athens, Istanbul, Manila and several other foreign cities which feature on scheduled American airline routes," the BBC added. It was unclear whether Jakarta's international airport was on the US investigators' list to be inspected.

A US congressional report estimates that up to 700,000 portable surface-to-air missiles could be on the international black market for purchase by terrorists and criminal syndicates, starting at a price of $5,000 each, the BBC said.

(Copyright 2003 Asia Times Online Co, Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact content@atimes.com for information on our sales and syndication policies.)
 
Aug 20, 2003




Jemaah Islamiya: Down but not out
(Aug 19, '03)

Terrorists regroup in southern Thailand (Aug 19, '03)
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