Another Great success for Detachment 88

Another Great success for Detachment 88

The arrest of Abu Dujana, the alleged leader of regional terrorist network Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), by Indonesia's anti-terror squad has deservedly won Jakarta widespread praise. The capture of the Afghan-trained militant may also help to dampen renewed enthusiasm in the US Congress for yet another proposal to cut military aid to Jakarta.

One of the most valuable benefits of the closer relationship between President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and President George W Bush has been the strengthening of the US-trained and equipped elite police counter-terrorism team, known locally as Detachment 88, first set up during the administration of president Megawati Sukarnoputri in 2003, only months after the first Bali bombings.

Equipped with US weaponry and assault vehicles, including Colt M4 assault rifles, Armalite AR-10 sniper rifles and Remington 870 shotguns, the elite unit has become one of the top anti-terror units, if not the top, in the world, during Yudhoyono's watch.

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer this week praised Indonesia for doing "an outstanding job in combating terrorism". Although there have been scores of arrests and convictions since the first Bali bombings in 2002, with more than 220 suspects jailed for terrorist activities since then, the battle against terrorism in Indonesia is far from over.

Police said last year that Dujana had replaced Noordin Mohamed Top, the Malaysian bomb-maker who allegedly supplied suicide bombers and materials used in terrorist attacks as Indonesia's most wanted fugitive. Top's alleged accomplice, Malaysian master bomb-maker Azahari bin Husin, was killed in a November 2005 shootout with Detachment 88 in the terror squad.

If allegations against him are proved to be true, Dujana certainly has a lot of blood on his hands. He is believed to have played a major role in the 2002 and 2005 Bali bombings and the Australian Embassy blast, as well as having a hand in the supply of ammunition and explosives to militants involved in sectarian violence in Poso, Central Sulawesi province. He is also thought to have played a role in the 2003 blast at the JW Marriott Hotel in Jakarta.

Australian Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty has warned that the effort needed to eradicate terrorism in Indonesia is "not a sprint, but a marathon".

Indonesian National Police Chief General Sutanto has called for tougher laws to fight terrorism, and says current legislation impedes investigations. Anti-terrorism chief General Ansyaad Mbai adds that the security forces lack authority to take preemptive action on those suspected of plotting terrorist strikes. On the other hand, radical Muslim groups strongly oppose tougher anti-terror laws, saying they could violate human rights.

The 2003 Anti-terrorism Law allows detention of suspects for seven days for questioning. If no evidence is provided by the police in that period, they must be released.

Proposed revisions to the existing law, which Mbai has described as the world's "softest" law against terrorism, would allow detention for a further six months for questioning and prosecution. Intelligence reports would be acceptable and admissible prima facie evidence for granting a detention order.

Detachment 88 had captured seven suspects thought to be members of Dujana's network during raids in Central and East Java. Caches of weapons, explosives and chemicals were seized that could have produced a bomb bigger than those used in Bali in October 2002. Rights campaigners allege that crackdowns by Detachment 88 have spawned rights violations and claim most of the arrests made were illegal.

Yet for Indonesia, with the world's biggest population of Muslims, the strong-arm tactics of neighbors Malaysia and Singapore, where suspects can be held indefinitely without charge or trial, is an unlikely option.