Target Asia

Leading opinions on how terrorism has shaped Asia’s thinking on global security.

October 13, 2003

Leading opinions on how terrorism has shaped Asia's thinking on global security.

The discovery of terror cells in places as varied as Singapore and Cambodia — as well as the 2002 bombings of a nightclub in Indonesia — have forced Asians to reconsider how big a threat global terrorism is to them. Many countries have taken steps to address the problem — but frictions and doubts remain. We present Asian views on this truly global threat.

What did the Bali bombings in October 2002 mean for Asia?

“The Bali attack was Southeast Asia’s 9/11.”
(Anthony Spaeth, Executive Editor for Time Asia, July 2003)

Did these attacks represent a change in tactics?

“We’re done, perhaps, with Christian churches and Indonesian priests. As Bali shows, the targets have very much shifted to large, visible, soft Western ones.”
(Sidney Jones, Indonesia director of the International Crisis Group, August 2003)

What is the best strategy to counter terrorists?

“When you fight terrorism, you cannot arrest or kill one or two people, however important they are. You must criminalize the group, go after their propaganda, their financing, their safe houses — and their training facilities. You must target the whole organization, not just one or two people — that’s useless.”
(Rohan Gunaratna, author of the book Inside al Qaeda, October 2003)

Does that explain U.S. logistical support for the Nepali government?

“We have a foreign policy that people who use terrorism should not succeed. But we also have concerns about the failed-state idea and the danger that all kinds of bad guys could use Nepal as a base — like in Afghanistan.”
(Michael E. Malinowski, U.S. ambassador to Nepal, March 2004)

Did Japan's apocalyptic Aum cult feed on similar social patterns as terrorists have done in the Middle East?

“The conditions that created Aum — the straitjacketed education system and the lack of creative outlets in society — are the same as before.”
(Yoshio Arita, expert on cults, March 2004)

Are people in Asia aware of the daily threat?

“People need to be reminded every three or six months about the threat of terrorism. It is not a war in the conventional sense.”
(Tan Guong Ching, permanent secretary at Singapore’s Ministry of Home Affairs, October 2003)

Why is that?

“In 2001 and 2002, it felt like war. Now, it’s just a grind. It’s going to require a sustained commitment and hard work to keep going. But it’s really the only way.”
(Western diplomat based in Asia, October 2003)

Could further attacks have negative economic consequences?

“It would only take a couple of blasts in Singapore’s main shopping district, Orchard Road, to have a grave economic impact.”
(Zachary Abuza, Southeast Asia terrorism expert, July 2003)

What may another attack look like?

“Most people in the business think an al Qaeda-linked attack of some kind at sea is inevitable.”
(Senior maritime security official in Southeast Asia, July 2003)

Why would terrorists pursue such a strategy?

“If a terrorist blew up, say, a liquefied natural-gas carrier, the resulting blast would be like a mini-nuke — and could flatten an entire port.”
(Anthony Spaeth, executive editor for Time Asia, July 2003)

Why are some countries less than happy about the tactics employed by United States?

“You get these hotshot CIA guys who come in a six-month rotation and they want to tear up everything — mosques, villages — to get bin Laden.”
(Western diplomat, September 2003)

What else frustrates security officers on the spot?

“Many FBI agents don’t really know Thailand. They have three people working in their offices in Bangkok. I have agents all over the place. We deal in facts. They deal in fiction, like writing novels.”
(Major-General Tritot Ronnaritivichai, Thai counter-terrorism official, February 2003)

What explains the appearance of Muslim terrorists in predominantly Buddhist countries, such as Thailand or Cambodia?

“Terrorists are like water flowing down a mountain, always taking the path of least resistance.”
(Zachary Abuza, Southeast Asia terrorism expert, June 2003)

Is al Qaeda the real challenge in Southeast Asia?

“Jemaah Islamiah [Islamic Community] is al-Qaeda’s most successful attempt to create a direct — but largely independent and self-financing — proxy.”
(Rohan Gunaratna, author of “Inside al Qaeda,” July 2003)

Why is the situation particularly problematic in Indonesia?

“Indonesia’s police don’t have computers, they don’t have proper communications equipment — they don’t even have phones. How can they compete with a sophisticated terrorist network?”
(Harold Crouch, Australian expert on Indonesian security affairs, October 2002)

Is Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri too complacent about terrorism?

"Expecting more than what she has done is like expecting a horse to have horns.”
(Arbi Sanit, professor of political science at the University of Indonesia in Jakarta, November 2002)

How do experts view the situation?

"Indonesian terrorism is clearly bigger than we thought and there are more little groups than we thought. It covers the entire country — that is the scary thing."
(Sydney Jones, Indonesia project director of the International Crisis Group, December 2002)

And finally, why are terrorists in Asia so elusive?

“Al Qaeda isn’t like a social club. They don’t have a posted membership list.”
(Jameel Yusuf, former head of Karachi’s Citizen-Police Liaison Committee, June 2003)