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Probe into Bali Bombings Continue


To Indonesia now, where police say they've questioned dozens of people in connection with Saturday's bombings on the resort island of Bali. Those attacks, carried out by three suicide bombers, left more than 20 people dead. The prime suspects are the Southeast Asian terror group Jemaah Islamiyah and two of its top operatives from Malaysia. NPR's Michael Sullivan reports from Jakarta.


Azahari bin Husin and Noordin Top are senior and seasoned JI operatives with a knack for eluding capture and a penchant for admiring their handiwork; attacks like the 2002 Bali bombings, the 2003 Marriott bombing and last year's attack on the Australian Embassy in Jakarta. University of Michigan terrorism expert Scott Atran.

Mr. SCOTT ATRAN (University of Michigan): Azahari and Noordin apparently never are more than a kilometer from their work, from their explosions, at least up till now. They always like to see what's happening and then they skip out quickly. And the policemen, intelligence services, you know, always seem to be one step behind them.

SULLIVAN: Indonesian authorities have not formally accused the two men of masterminding Saturday's attacks, but few believe the bombings are the work of anyone else. What's less clear is whether the attacks were sanctioned by the Jemaah Islamiyah leadership.

Mr. ATRAN: JI is riddled by divisions right now, especially over the notion of suicide bombings and killings of civilians.

SULLIVAN: Again, Scott Atran.

Mr. ATRAN: There are some in JI who really believe that they are mujaheddin in the sense of soldiers on a battlefield, and that killing civilians and blowing yourself up and doing that certainly isn't the way to go. And there are others who really believe that suicide bombing and the killing of civilians is a proper mode of battle because of all the Muslims killed by the West, especially by America and its allies.

SULLIVAN: Azahari and Noordin, both Malaysians, clearly fall into the latter camp. Sidney Jones, Southeast Asia project director for the International Crisis Group, says it's possible hard-liners within JI are now forming around these two men. It's also possible, she says, that they may be breaking away from JI altogether.

Ms. SIDNEY JONES (Southeast Asia Project Director, International Crisis Group): There has been speculation that the Malaysians have actually been recruiting younger people into a new and somewhat hard-line combat unit. And we don't know whether this will prove to be their inaugural operation or not.

SULLIVAN: Jones says the recovery of the bombers' heads relatively intact will make it easier for authorities to determine their identities and perhaps bring them closer to capturing the two Malaysian masterminds.

But their capture, she says, will not mean an end to the terrorist threat here. Zachary Abuza, the author of a recent book on Southeast Asian terrorism, agrees, especially, he says, since training of new recruits continues, both in Indonesia and in the southern Philippines.

Mr. ZACHARY ABUZA (Author): Azahari is a former university professor and teaching a new generation of jihadis how to make these bombs. As long as the training's going on in the southern Philippines, you could arrest people like Azahari or Noordin and it wouldn't stop this. It might slow it down, but it wouldn't stop it.

SULLIVAN: Sidney Jones says organizational links are becoming less important. What matters, she says, are personal contacts and shared ideology, not organizational affiliation.

Ms. JONES: There's a series of groups and personal networks. And it's tiny, but all of these people can be tied into one another and they form a clandestine network that's potent.

SULLIVAN: Azahari and Noordin, analysts say, are using this informal network to pursue their goals. Scott Atran says there is reason to believe the men may have access to new sources of funding: Saudi money men who once bankrolled the former senior al-Qaeda operative Khalid Sheik Mohammed. These funders, Atran says, are rumored to be offering large sums for further attacks against US, Australian and other Western targets, including embassies in the region. Michael Sullivan, NPR News, Jakarta. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michael Sullivan is NPR's Senior Asia Correspondent. He moved to Hanoi to open NPR's Southeast Asia Bureau in 2003. Before that, he spent six years as NPR's South Asia correspondent based in but seldom seen in New Delhi.