Experts see parallels in Bali and London attacks
By Jason Szep
BOSTON (Reuters) – The common traveler’s backpack carrying
small bombs may now be among the leading threats to world
security, experts said on Monday, drawing a link between this
weekend’s bombings in Bali to those in London in July.
Militants from the United States to Europe and Southeast
Asia have used car and truck bombs and even planes to make
dramatic statements. But now small, easily made bombs like
those used in London appear to be the new trend.
The al Qaeda-linked group at the heart of an Indonesian
probe into the three bombs that tore through restaurants packed
with Saturday evening diners and killed 22 people likely drew
inspiration from the London attack in July, the experts said.
“It shows a shift to small, London-style suicide bombers
(like those) in Indonesia from large truck bombs,” said Zachary
Abuza, an expert on Islamic militancy in Southeast Asia at
Boston’s Simmons College.
U.S. authorities warned people of threats posed by small,
home-made bombs after the July 7 attack in London’s transit
system that killed 56 people, putting New York on its highest
level of alert since the September 11, 2001, attacks.
But much of that security has been rolled back. Police have
dismantled checkpoints, scaled back subway patrols and pulled
bomb-sniffing dogs off New York commuter trains.
Security experts such as Arnold Howitt of Harvard’s Kennedy
School of Government said a Bali-style attack involving
hard-to-detect bombs would be remarkably easy in the United
States. Bomb-making materials are easy to find and security
loopholes in restaurants and trains are plentiful.
But he said one element appears missing: suicide bombers.
“The limiting factor in the United States is that the most
effective way of carrying out this kind of attack is through
suicide bombers and we don’t seem to have a supply of
indigenous suicide bombers,” he said.
Abuza said the simplicity of stuffing bombs into backpacks
likely influenced the Bali bombers. Chilling video footage
released in Bali late on Sunday showed a man entering a
restaurant, followed almost instantly by an explosion.
The attack contrasts with a truck bomb detonated in the
Indonesian capital Jakarta near Australia’s embassy on
September 9, 2004, killing three people, and to a suicide car
bomb outside the JW Marriott Hotel in Jakarta in 2003 that
“The shift from large truck bombs to people with a small 5
kg (11 lb) bomb on their back is very significant. To me it
says a lot about the resources that they have or don’t have.
The truck bombs were very expensive operations,” said Abuza.
He said the simplicity made it easier to launch attacks. “I
think we’re going to see a lot more of this,” he added.
Initial investigations into Saturday’s attack — the second
on Bali since a series of blasts on October 12, 2002, killed
202 people — are focused on Jemaah Islamiah, a network linked
to Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda, which has been blamed for past
bombings in the world’s most populous Muslim nation.
Australian police involved in the probe said the style of
bombs and materials used appeared new to the region. An
Indonesian official said they included TNT and ball bearings.
“They are reverting to more simplified weapons usage
because they can’t mount the big one but they want to stay in
the game,” said retired U.S. Brigadier General Russell Howard,
a counter-terrorism expert at Tufts University, who believes
Jemaah Islamiah’s resources are shrinking.
“It is an admission that they are not as strong as they
were. But the simpler form of warfare is easier to prosecute
and more difficult to detect,” he said.