HONOLULU, Hawai‘i (Oct. 13, 2002 - East-West Wire)---The car bomb in Bali that killed at least 150 people poses a major new problem for the Indonesian government that could have devastating consequences if handled badly, an East-West Center expert on the country said.

"With a beleaguered Megawati government fighting to handle the economy and internal security and to rebuild its relations with its partner countries, this is a devastating event for the government," said Richard Baker, an adjunct senior fellow who specializes in Indonesia. "With the Indonesian government's political weakness, this attack could give ammunition to groups that can profit from chaos."

Baker listed four groups that could have been responsible for the car bomb that exploded next to a tourist nightclub Saturday, killing many Australians among its victims. Australia has strongly supported the U.S. war on terrorism and U.S. talk of invading Iraq. Australia also led international peacekeeping forces in East Timor, which suffered bloody retaliation by the Indonesian military after East Timorese voted for independence from Indonesia.

Dealing with any of the possible perpetrators would raise extreme complexities for the government, Baker said.

If Al Qaeda is responsible, it will be an embarrassment for the government, which has denied Al Qaeda connections in Indonesia and demanded evidence despite intelligence from Malaysia and Singapore, Baker said. It would also show that Indonesian intelligence and security are weak.

Involvement of local Islamic groups with connections to Al Qaeda creates a complicated and delicate domestic problem, Baker said. While intelligence in neighboring countries has suggested Abu Bakar Bashir, head of the radical Islamic group Jemaah Islamiyah, is connected to Al Qaeda and terrorist plots, Indonesian officials say they have seen no evidence to support this. Indonesia's vice president has invited the Islamic leader to dinner. And recently Abu Bakar Bashir threatened that if the Indonesian government went after him, he would unleash his followers and declare holy war.

"Abu Bakar Bashir is trying to wrap himself in the cloak of aroused Islamics and use action against him as a way to bring down the wrath of Indonesian Muslims," Baker said. He also pointed out that Bali is the only majority Hindu province in Indonesia, and local people involved in the bombing would likely not be Muslim.

If radical Muslims are angry at Australia and the United States, Indonesian nationalists are even angrier because of East Timor, Baker said. There have been international demands that the Indonesian military hold its members accountable for the East Timor bloodshed. "If someone in Indonesia wants to retaliate against Australia, military elements are more logical targets of suspicion than radical Muslims," Baker said about military officers who have been discredited and have retired. "The military has ready access to explosives."

Finally, Baker said the perpetrators could have been a group that simply wanted to embarrass the Megawati government and strengthen its own position in elections.

On the other hand, Baker said President Megawati Sukarnoputri, who has generally been considered a weak leader, can react strongly in time of crises. "If her reaction is that she must act, that this cannot go on, paradoxically this might galvanize leadership we haven't seen.

"The problem is there are so many forces involved with so many different agendas, it's unlikely we will ever know the full story."

Richard Baker can be reached at 808-291-5418 or

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