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Saturday, July 18

Jakarta terror bombings cast a pall over Hillary Clinton's arrival in India. The question is whether this was intentional.

When I turned on the TV around 12:45 ET Friday morning Fox News Cable was bedded down for the night, airing a re-run of the Sean Hannity show, but CNN was roaring along with live coverage of the Jakarta bombings.

CNN scared up for comment Rohan Gunaratna, ace international terrorism analyst and counter-terrorism strategist. He probably knows more about the Indonesia-based terror organization Jemaah Islamiah than most government intelligence agencies.

Rohan said straight off the bat that the bombings of the two Jakarta hotels were the work of JI. Hours later Reuters reported that police investigators had noted the bombs were packed with nails, ballbearings, nuts and bolts to maximize the carnage and appeared to be "identical" to ones previously used in JI attacks.

I can't recall whether Rohan also said that the terror strike was done with al Qaeda's help but he probably did, or wouldn't disagree with the observation. The precision of the dual operation and Qaeda's signature one-two punch makes it beyond question that U.S. intelligence advisors are dreaming if they think strong ties were ever severed between JI and AQ.

(Of course with AQ in the mix the suicide bombers who carried out the attacks weren't necessarily Indonesian nationals. The Reuters report also mentioned there was a third bomb blast Friday morning in Jakarta, on a toll road, in which two people were killed. The reporter didn't have more details.)

When asked whether he thought the Indonesian government was doing enough to counter JI, Gunaratna's assessment was polite but blunt. From my notes as he spoke:
The government needs to target infrastructures that support the cells, even though government did a good job targeting cells. I'm still seeing that fundraising to support JI is quite open. I'm still seeing that radical terrorists who preach violence against government and the West do so openly. The government needs to act to dismantle those structures.
CNN also spoke with one observer in Indonesia who opined it was likely 'Westerners' were specifically targeted in the attacks.

(Of course this would include people who come from 'Western-style' nations, such as Australia and New Zealand, no matter where the nations are located.

He said restaurants and lounges in the targeted luxury hotels would have been full at that hour with 'Western' tourists and with Indonesian businessmen having breakfast meetings there, but because it was Friday morning "observant" Muslims would have been at mosque prayers.

When CNN asked Guanaratna what he thought of the theory he replied that it sounded plausible but the key determinant for any JI operation was that the timing of an attack assured its success. He went on to stress this point, saying in so many words that the top consideration for choice of date and time of the bombings was simply that they were the best opportunity for JI to strike.

From this, it's possible that JI had wanted to attack even earlier, perhaps timed for U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's mid-February visit to the country or Indonesia's President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's reelection campaign and/or landslide political victory on July 8.

However, the inescapable reality is that the bombings occurred while Hillary Clinton was on her way to Mumbai, India for a five-day visit to the country. (Actually three days of official visits, Saturday through Monday, although she arrived Friday night.)

That she and her entourage were slated to stay at a site of the terrorist-instigated Mumbai massacre last year -- the Taj Mahal Palace & Tower, another luxury hotel that attracts Western tourists and India's elite -- would have been easily discovered by al Qaeda's spies in India.

Another great counter-terrorism expert, India's B. Raman, noted on his blog yesterday that the Jakarta bombings of the JW Marriott and Ritz Carlton could be seen as part of a larger pattern of terrorist attacks on American and Jewish-owned luxury hotels in foreign countries that cater to well-off tourists and the local elite.

Raman lays out the pattern in considerable detail and notes that the Jakarta bombings bring to 16 the number of luxury hotels that have been struck since 9/11. He also has a special note about the JW Marriott chain:
[...] The Marriott hotels in different cities suffered from terrorist attacks in seven incidents--- New York, Jakarta twice, Islamabad thrice and Karachi once.

Hotels with link-ups to the Marriott chain were attacked twice -- in Peshawar and in Jakarta on July 17. The Islamabad Marriott and the Peshawar Pearl Continental are run by the same person. The Jakarta Ritz-Carlton has a common employees' pool with the Marriott. An underground passageway connects the two hotels that are located across the road from each other. The Ritz-Carlton group is managed by the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, which is reported to be a subsidiary of Marriott International. The Marriott Hotels have a good reputation for physical security. Despite this, terrorists have managed to strike them repeatedly.[...]
Yet with all that said, we return to the inescapable fact that the Jakarta hotel bombings occurred while the U.S. Secretary of State was enroute to India, in what would be the first visit to the country by a high-ranking member of the new Obama administration. And where she was expected to make an extensive outreach to India's business leaders on behalf of America's government and business community. Clinton's first meeting in India was to breakfast this morning at the Taj with 10 of India's top corporation heads.

Mumbai and all major cities in India would be a very hard target for al Qaeda and their affiliates at this time because security in the country, high since the Mumbai massacre, is ratcheted to the highest degree for Clinton's visit. This would be the same for India's luxury hotels.

The highest degree of security has not been present in Jakarta. The Reuters report I quoted mentions that while there are no outward signs that security measures have been relaxed in Jakarta since the presidential election, there is room for improvement:
All the major hotels in Jakarta have security checks outside to reduce the risk of car bombs, although checks in many are not particularly thorough, with a security guard just poking his head in the window to look at who is inside the car.
And John Batchelor reported on his website yesterday (see his 2:52 PM entry in the comment section to his Jakarta to POTUS post):
According to a police source cited by [Indonesia's Detik News], police have determined that Nurdin Azis carried his bomb into the hotel in a laptop bag. The contents of the bag pinged the metal detectors, however, a security guard merely asked him if it was a laptop and then waved him through. [Azis is one of the suicide bombers; Indonesian police believe the name to be an alias.]
While details are still sketchy on the bombing operation, the combination of more relaxed security measures and the strategy of building at least one bomb inside a target hotel, which makes it easier to avoid checkpoints, suggests that JI had a little elbow room in which to maneuver the timing of their attacks.

From John's post about the Jakarta bombings he clearly believes they were al Qaeda's retort to President Obama's gauzy June speech to the 'Muslim World' and patronizing patronizing view of Islamist terrorism. But again, there is the simple reality of when the retort came.
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