Decline in Pacific terrorism follows worldwide trend
A bomb exploded on October 22 in Poso, Indonesia, injuring three people, including two traffic policemen.
Police attending the initial explosion site appear to be targets of a secondary bomb which killed two of them. A third device located nearby bore similar characteristics to the first two bombs but did not detonate.
The attacks in Poso occurred just days before an expected raid on an alleged terrorist camp in the mountains of Tamanjeka province. Police confiscated several live bombs, high explosive materials, bomb parts,and bomb-making manuals.
The group suspected of carrying out the bombings last week is the radical Islamist Jamaah Ansharut Tauhid (JAT).
The group is widely considered to be the forerunner of the more well-known Indonesian terrorist organisation Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) and was added to the list of Foreign Terrorist Organisations and Specially Designated Global Terrorist entities by the US State Department in February.
Jemaah Islamiyah is the larger, more experienced, big brother organisation operating in the islands of Indonesia. They reached an activity spike in 2002, when their bombings in Bali killed 202 people, mostly Australian tourists.
No further attacks
Yet a decade later, despite their association with Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda group, the Indonesian terrorists have been unable to conduct any further significant attacks against foreign citizens or interests either inside or outside Indonesia.
The relatively few numbers of successful attacks by terrorists such as JI reveal the difficulties all international terrorist groups face after a concerted, decade-long disruption effort by Western governments.
Geography alone is a hugely limiting factor in the spread of transnational terrorism in the South Pacific, which is speckled with difficult-to-reach, disparate islands spread over thousands of kilometres.
After the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington in 2001 many governments, including Jakarta, increased pressure on militant groups internally while simultaneously addressing the transnational threat.
But the lack of terrorism in the region over the past decade also reflects a broader trend among the Islamic terrorism community and the overall tactics of terrorism in the modern era.
While the governments of the Western world have fed billions of dollars into this battle, deadly attacks still slip through the expensive security nets. Some countries, Indonesia included, do not have sufficient resources to fight either domestic or international terrorism as they would want, relying instead on foreign aid and counter-terrorism expertise.
However, a strong economy will not shield rich nations from attack. American law enforcement often locate people in various stages of terrorist planning.
As recently as September 15, aspiring jihadist Adel Daoud attempted to detonate a homemade bomb outside a Chicago bar. The device was inert because FBI agents had supplied him with fake explosives after discovering his ambitions in an online chat room.
Such “Kramer Jihadists”, so named after the bungling Seinfeld character, have been relatively common around the world since 2001. Some of these committed amateurs have succeeded in attacking their targets, but government intelligence agencies are frequebtly disrupting conspiracies before they become operational.
The Chicago case exemplifies the shift in some terrorist tactics away from core groups such as al Qaeda towards more grassroots operations.
Moving into this style of terrorism has lessened the likelihood for large, theatrical attacks on hardened targets but at the same time increasing the possibility of smaller, easier strikes on softer targets.
If these aspiring terrorists meet other competent jihadist operatives instead of government officials, the potential for their conspiracies to reach fruition becomes alarmingly high. Had Daoud used real explosives and blown up the crowded Chicago bar, his basic skills would not have mattered.
With the collapse in 2001 of the group led by Osama bin Laden, Islamic terrorists have struggled to inflict consistent successful attacks internationally.
The 9/11 attacks caused a geopolitical shift in which the US concentrated the full weight of its resources against al Qaeda and its supporters. What was mostly unexpected was the speed with which international terrorism was disrupted.
Many of the world's institutions created to fight the global terrorists were quickly made redundant as it became apparent the jihadist threat was not as widespread or powerful as initially thought.
Never hit Australian mainland
Jemaah Islamiyah was a significant terrorist group most Pacific countries were unaware of until after 9/11. Its motive for bombing Bali was in retaliation for Australian military help in the US-led Afghanistan campaign. Yet JI was never able to attack the Australian mainland.
New Zealand is also involved with the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan and was surely on the target list yet was not attacked either.
Rather, it was Jemaah Islamiyah that was decimated to a point where it no longer posed a major threat.
As the US and other countries begin to wind up a decade-long focus on international jihadist terrorism, last week’s attacks in Indonesia demonstrate regional militants are still likely to be a part of the landscape for the foreseeable future.
Closer to home was the 2007 case of groups observed in the North Island’s Ureweras, domestic terrorism will remain a theme of public life in many countries.
Even though the al Qaeda core is marginalised and broken, the ideology of jihadism and the tactic of terrorism survive, winning new sympathisers each year.
While jihadists acting inside Indonesia do not necessarily pose a geopolitical threat on anything but a regional scale, they continue to kill scores of people. They and others willing to use terrorism to achieve political goals will always pose a threat.
Nathan Smith has a Bachelor of Communications in Journalism from Massey University and has studied international relations and conflict