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ICC Note: Here is a tie-in to the press release we issued yesterday about the situation in Poso ( Indonesia ). We would argue with the author about it being a “new front” though. The Al Qaeda types (Jemaah Islamiah is the local flavor) have been there for years as we have reported on for years in our newsletter. The existence of these cells (formerly camps) is well known to the locals.

Terrorists open new front in Indonesia
Sydney Morning Herald
Lindsay Murdoch in Jakarta

HIGH-RANKING figures in Jemaah Islamiah have opened a new front in their terrorism campaign on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi , where nine of their fighters and a police officer have been killed in the latest gun battle.

Terrorism experts say dormant Java-based cells of the organisation seem to have been reactivated by US and Australian-trained anti-terrorist squad attacks on militant strongholds near the Sulawesi town of Poso , 1700 kilometres east of Jakarta .

They say the violence in Poso this month has caused a dangerous escalation of what radical Islamic militants see as their jihad or war against infidels.

Jemaah Islamiah planned and carried out the two Bali bombings and a string of other attacks on mainly Western targets in Indonesia that have resulted in hundreds of deaths since 2002. Scores of militant members of Jemaah Islamiah cells allegedly opposed to attacks on Western targets such as the Australian embassy in Jakarta have travelled to Poso to fight.

“This is a dangerous development,” Sidney Jones, the Jakarta-based director of the International Crisis Group, said yesterday.

“The ramifications could well be an energising of the jihadist movement, which in my opinion had been steadily weakening.”

At least two high-ranking and influential JI figures have been killed in Poso this month, one of them in the battle late on Monday when police killed the nine militants, captured 18 others and seized a large cache of bombs, weapons and ammunition.

Police killed Rassyah, a prominent group leader, from the Central Java city of Solo , in a battle in Poso on January 11 that set the stage for more violent clashes in the area.

Rassyah trained in Afghanistan at the same time as Ali Ghufron, alias Mukhlas, one of three bombers on death row who carried out the 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202 people, including 88 Australians.

Rassyah, also known as Abdul Hakim, had been hunted by Indonesian police since 2003, after he organised JI’s stashing of a huge cache of ammunition and explosives. He is thought to have turned up in Poso in 2004. Since then Islamic extremists in the town have been blamed for sporadic bombings, beheadings, shootings and other attacks that prompted the Indonesian Government to authorise the US and Australian-trained anti-terrorist squad crackdown.

Ms Jones said the crisis group would today publish a report detailing Jemaah Islamiah’s links to the Poso violence. It would show that what was happening in Poso was no longer a local phenomenon, she said.

There was no evidence that the Poso fighting was linked directly to Noordin Top, South-East Asia ‘s most wanted terrorist, she said.

But she added that this was more worrying because while some of the JI members going to Poso opposed Top’s attacks on Western targets, they believed it legitimate to fight Indonesian police trying to maintain law in Central Sulawesi .

In Monday’s battle police were confronted by an estimated 200 fighters when they went to a JI hide-out to arrest a terrorist suspect.