The arrests this week of key operatives of an Indonesian terrorist group is significant, says a senior U.S. counterterrorism official, but neither of the men were responsible for the deadliest terrorist attack in Indonesia, the December 2002 bombing of a Bali nightclub that killed 202 people, including five Americans.
The two -- Abu Dujana and Zarkasih -- were grabbed this week and identified as the leader and military commander of Jemaah Islamiyah, the Indonesian terrorist group blamed for the Bali bombing. However, the official said the U.S. does not believe the two men were part of the planning or execution of the attack.
"It's a serious setback," said the official. "I can tell you we're happy they're off the street. It's a significant event."
The significance he said is two-fold: first that the two were even arrested, and second it shows that the Indonesians are "commited to fighting terror."
"I became the emergency head ... in 2005," Zarkasih, 45, said in a videotape shown to reporters in Jakarta, adding that the selection followed a police crackdown that crippled the organization in recent years. The capture of Dujana -- who as head of Jemaah Islamiyah's military unit had been Indonesia's most wanted man -- was announced Wednesday. Authorities had mostly referred to him as the group's top leader, but said Friday, after intensive interrogations, that Zarkasih held that post.
"From 2005 until now I was head of the military wing [of Jemaah Islamiyah]," said Dujana in another videotape Friday.
U.S. officials said the two men may have known about the Bali attacks in 2002, but were not believed to have been part of the planning or exeution.
Jemaah Islamiyah has long been linked to al-Qaida, mainly through a link between its former leader, Hambali, and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. KSM, the architect of the 9-11 attacks, arranged for al-Qaida to provide more than $50,000 to Jemaah Islamiyah to cover the cost of the Bali bombings. Hambali himself was captured and turned over to U.S. authorities in Thailand on Aug. 11, 2003. He is now awaiting trial at the U.S. Navy Base at Guantanamo, Cuba. (The Pentagon recently posted audio of Hambali's initial hearing at the base.)
After the Bali attack and a subsequent attack on the J.W. Marriott hotel in Jakarta, which killed 18, the U.S. intelligence and counterterrorism community expressed doubts that the Indonesian government was prepared to prosecute Islamic militants in Islam's most populated country. In particular, the U.S. was angered by the lenient sentence given Abu Bakar Bashir, the country's leading Islamic militant.
Asked if the U.S. had pressured Indonesia to carry out these arrests, the official said that Indonesia is a "willilng partner" in the war on terror but added that the U.S. has indeed "encouraged" the South East Asian nation to do more.
Since the J. W. Marriott attack, Jemaah Islamiyah has not had a lot of success in carrying out attacks in Southeast Asia, having been thwarted in several plots. Their most recent successes were triple suicide bombings on restaurants in Bali in 2005. "They have not shown a lot of prowess", said the official.