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Jihadi terrorism still poses a threat to the -

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Jihadi terrorism still poses a threat to the region: report

The World Today - Wednesday, 25 June , 2008 12:30:00

Reporter: Eleanor Hall

TANYA NOLAN: It hasn't launched a major terrorist attack since 2005, but Jemaah Islamiyah remains a
serious threat to Australia and the region.

That's the finding of a report released today by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute which
argues JI is still the main terrorist organisation in South-East Asia, despite significant splits
in its ranks.

JI was behind the Bali bombings in 2002 and 2005 which killed and injured more than 500 people and
some of its key players including Amrozi, Imam Samudra, and Ali Gufron are on death row for their
roles in the attacks.

But a key JI leader, Mohammad Noordin Top, remains at large and the Institute estimates he can
still count on the fanatical support of a hardcore membership of around 900 militants.

Earlier, I spoke to one of the report's authors, Dr Carl Ungerer, who said despite a lull in
terrorist attacks, it is premature to flag the end of Jihadi terrorism in South-East Asia.

CARL UNGERER: It is true that JI is not the organisation that it was a number of years ago and in
fact our research shows that it has splintered into two principle blocks. One is a pro-bombing
faction led by Noordin Top and includes others such as al-Kharnen(phonetic) who is allegedly the
al-Qaeda point man in South-East Asia.

And a larger group of individuals sometimes known as the bureaucrats who are more interested in
consolidating their base rather than in conducting terrorist operations at the moment.

So the threat remains. There are still some 900 individuals who, militants who are associated with
JI in Indonesia. And indeed in other parts of the region, in southern Thailand we have seen an
escalation of the Malay insurgency there since 2004.

In the southern Philippines even though the Moro Islamic Liberation Group has, is in the process of
political negotiations with the government in Manilla, should they negotiations break down and they
are fragile at best, then I think we could see a return to political violence in the south of the
Philippines as well.

So for all those reasons, we think that the terrorist threat has changed. It has evolved but it
still remains real and one that we should watch.

TANYA NOLAN: Does it still need to remain high on Australia's national security priority list?

CARL UNGERER: Absolutely and complacency is the real key to all of this. If there was any
diminution of the counter-terrorism effort by Australia or the South-East Asia governments then
that would provide sufficient space and opportunity for some of these groups to reassert
themselves.

TANYA NOLAN: What signals are you getting the JI still poses the risk it once did? You are saying
there are major internal divisions; the Indonesian authorities have cracked down on this
organisation; it is not the organisation it once was; the organisation we knew from the Bali
bombings. So what risk, what sufficient risk does it pose?

CARL UNGERER: The risk has changed. That is true but individuals like Noordin Top have bomb making
capabilities that are sufficient to conduct another Bali-type series of bombings or indeed bombing
against the Australian embassy.

There is a debate going on within JI at the moment. It is sort of reflected in the splintering of
the organisation between attacking the far enemy, that is the United States and its allies such as
Australia, or attacking the near enemy of the Indonesian Government. And despite all those fissures
and frictions, you know JI retains the capability to conduct Bali-style bombings and so for that
reason I think, for prudential reasons, vigilance is the key.

TANYA NOLAN: Does that internal debate going on within JI range across the spectrum that al-Qaeda
is reportedly having within itself, qestioning the overall meaning of jihad and whether violence is
at the centre of jihad?

CARL UNGERER: I think, that is an interesting question because I think that is right. It is
reflected in a broader question about what is the correct path towards what the Islamists are
seeking to achieve.

The ultimate goal of course, of Abdullah Sungkar and Abu Bakar Bashir who established JI in the
1990s was a pan-regional Islamic caliphate across the region. Bashir continues to argue for such an
organisation, but no-one seriously believes that that is going to come to fruition any time soon.

But it is part of a broader debate, you are right, in the Islamic community. Particularly is the
Islamist element of the Islamic community about where to go next.

TANYA NOLAN: And so as a potential counter-point or counter-force if you like, you urge the
Australian Government to capitalise on recent bilateral gains in anti-terrorism efforts.

So for example the Prime Minister's idea of an Asia-Pacific Union that would put terrorism among
the key areas for bilateral co-operation, would that be the sort of forum that you think that this
attack on JI and other terrorist groups could happen and could happen effectively?

CARL UNGERER: Possibly, the APEC meeting in Sydney last year, terrorism was a subject of concern
and high level political dialogue can be effective in a number of ways. It can maintain momentum on
a particular issue and indeed in national jurisdictions can drive much of the policy agenda.

That high level political direction I think is critical. We are now coming up to 12 months since
the last major ministerial meeting of South-East Asian ministers on terrorism occurred and I think
one of our recommendations was that although the bilateral counter-terrorism efforts have made
substantial gains in recent years, bringing that political cohesion and direction back to the
debate about regional terrorism is necessary.

TANYA NOLAN: And that's Dr Carl Ungerer, the director of the National Security Project for the
Australian Strategic Policy Institute.