Terror on an isle of dreams
Shock waves from the murderous blast in Bali prompt ominous new CIA warnings
To the Islamic radicals who wield terror, it must have seemed the perfect target: the heart of Bali's Kuta Beach, long a magnet for surfers and footloose western travelers. Along Kuta's main drag, amid the teeming bars and nightclubs, the sins of the infidels were on open display: Men and women mixed easily, with alcohol, drugs, and sex in the air. Other reasons, too, may have beckoned the true believers to strike at Bali: The tropical isle of dreams is traditionally Hindu, a rarity in Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim country.
Shortly before midnight on October 12, two vehicles stopped alongside the Sari Club, investigators say. One was packed with ANFO--ammonium nitrate and fuel oil--the same lethal mixture used by Timothy McVeigh to destroy the Alfred E. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. Before fleeing in the second car, the attackers apparently set off a small explosion in the bathroom of a pub across the street. Curious partiers emptied into the street. Then the second, much larger bomb blew. At least 181 people died, most of them vacationing Australians.
Calvin Wilson, an Australian surfer, was heading to the beach, a boogie board tucked under his arm. "I walked into hell," he says. "Everything was burning. There were piles of bodies everywhere. Inside the cars the drivers were frozen in the flames. Until I die I will never forget the girl walking towards me and literally there was no skin left on her body."
The attack in Bali--one of the worst acts of terror on record--is part of a new wave of terrorist attacks. This month alone the list includes bombings in the Philippines, the October 6 assault on a French oil tanker in Yemen, and the firing on U.S. troops in Kuwait two days later. The attacks coincided with new tape-recorded messages by al Qaeda leaders calling for renewed strikes against the West. "You must make the assumption that al Qaeda is in an execution phase and intends to strike us both here and overseas," CIA Director George Tenet warned Congress last week. Tenet called the "threat environment" as bad as the summer before 9/11. "They are coming after us," he said.
Terrorist hot spot. That the most deadly of the new strikes hit Indonesia came as no surprise to U.S. officials. Long a sideshow in the global war on terror, Southeast Asia has moved to center stage. "Outside Afghanistan and Pakistan, the highest concentration of al Qaeda operatives today is likely in Southeast Asia," says Matthew Levitt, a former international terror analyst for the FBI. The region has long been a favored spot for radical Islamists, who command active followings in heavily Muslim Indonesia and Malaysia, as well as in the Philippines, where Muslim separatists have waged a decades-old guerrilla war. But it is Indonesia that has given Washington the biggest headache. With its 230 million people, impoverished economy, and weak government, the sprawling archipelago has become a terrorist hot spot. Still, until last week's Bali bombing, President Megawati Sukarnoputri had refused to confront the problem.