Just nine days after his overwhelming re-election as President of the world's most populous Muslim-majority nation, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was overcome with rare emotion. In a statement televised nationwide, S.B.Y., as the moderate former general is commonly known in Indonesia, held up a picture of himself. But this was no ordinary campaign poster. Instead, the 59-year-old, his voice cracking, announced that gun-toting, balaclava-masked terrorists were using his face as target practice. Indonesian intelligence, said the President, had uncovered evidence that unnamed parties would unleash "a revolution if S.B.Y. wins."
S.B.Y.'s emotional outburst, complete with tantalizing but vague allusions to political figures who might want to harm him, came just hours after a pair of suicide bombers detonated their deadly loads in two luxury hotels in Jakarta, the country's capital. Seven bystanders were killed in the July 17 attack, most of them foreigners, bringing an end to a four-year lull in terrorist activity in Indonesia. A few days after the dust cleared, Indonesian police implied that the terror strikes at the JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton might be the handiwork of Noordin Mohammed Top, a Malaysian fugitive believed to head an offshoot of Jemaah Islamiah (JI), a homegrown terrorist network linked to al-Qaeda. A trained accountant, Noordin is considered the mastermind of a 2002-05 reign of terror in Indonesia that included two bombings on the resort island of Bali, a hit on the Australian embassy in Jakarta and a car bomb targeting the same Marriott struck on July 17. The spate of attacks, which killed around 250 people, was clearly designed to target Westerners, whose presence presumably sullies JI's stated vision of creating a pan-Asian Islamic caliphate.
The possible resurgence of JI must be particularly disheartening for Yudhoyono, a leader who had made cracking down on Islamic extremism a hallmark of his first term. S.B.Y.'s assertion that the attacks may have been linked to a desire to wound him politically also seemed a bit dissonant. "It was premature and not very sensitive ... to try to divert the attention to himself," says Nico Harjanto, senior researcher at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Jakarta. "If he wanted to talk about a threat to himself he could do it later and not right after the bombing."
Yudhoyono's popularity was burnished by the perception that he was reshaping an often chaotic collection of 17,000 disparate islands into a stable, vibrant country with solid economic prospects. Just 11 years after the country made a transition from dictatorship to democracy, Indonesia has emerged as a regional standout. On the terror front, he presided over the diminishment of the JI network by arresting hundreds of militants and sending potential extremists to re-education camps. An abrupt cessation in violence appeared to prove the strategy's success. But with blood staining Jakarta anew, terror analysts are beginning to ask whether enough was done. For one, asks Anies Baswedan, rector of Paramadina University in Jakarta, what has happened to the dozens of JI operatives who have been released from jail in recent months after serving their sentences? "We don't know what they are doing," he says. "There must be some monitoring mechanism to ensure they are not regrouping."
Police are speculating that one of the suicide bombers, tentatively identified as 35-year-old Nur Said (also possibly known as Nur Hasbi or Nur Aziz), may have attended the infamous al-Mukmin Islamic boarding school in central Java that also produced two of the Bali bombers and the man who blew himself up at the Marriott in 2003. Given the school's notorious alumni, should the government have shuttered al-Mukmin? Noor Huda Ismail, head of the Institute for International Peacebuilding in Jakarta and a graduate of al-Mukmin, doesn't think so. "It's like an aquarium that can be monitored [by the police]," he says. "It is more about personal connections than a breeding ground for terrorists. Even some members of parliament graduated from there."