TIME: Will They Strike Again?


At first sight, the video might be a routine tv ad for a luxury hotel, the camera dutifully following a waiter as he arrives at a room carrying a tray. But when the guest opens his door, the waiter whips out a pistol and calmly proceeds to blast the head off a papier-maché dummy. In other scenes, masked fighters abseiling down the walls of the "hotel" with grenades leave no doubt what this is: a training manual for an assault on a resort complex. The video, one of a batch of al-Qaeda tapes found outside Kabul this month, is a chilling reminder of the range of targets al-Qaeda and its proxies like Jemaah Islamiah are preparing to attack. With each new arrest -- last week Indonesian investigators nabbed Bali bomber Imam Samudra while the U.S. announced it had apprehended al-Qaeda's Persian Gulf chief Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri -- authorities learn more about how to thwart global terrorism. TIME consulted intelligence officials and security experts for this survey of Islamic terrorist networks and the threat level in Asia's possible target countries.

PHILIPPINES: High tension

Rocked by a slew of recent explosions and bombarded by warnings of more to come, the Philippines these days has something of a siege mentality. Even the gala Dec. 15 opening of the new, $500-million Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal has been indefinitely postponed by a worried President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. "The need to take extreme security measures cannot be overemphasized," Transportation and Communications Secretary Leandro Mendoza said in a statement.

Filipinos need no reminding that they are squarely in the sights of Jemaah Islamiah (JI), and the presence of U.S. troops may have made the archipelago an even more tempting target. A year ago, an explosion rocked the Metro Railway Transit, killing 22 and injuring hundreds of others. The attack was carried out by Indonesian Fathur Rohman al-Ghozi, a self-confessed JI member with links to the Philippines' two major Islamic guerrilla groups, the MILF and the Abu Sayyaf. After his January capture in Manila, al-Ghozi said he carried out the bombings on the orders of JI operations commander Riduan (Hambali) Isamuddin. Equally worrying, recent Mindanao bombings suggest that Abu Sayyaf has returned to its roots as a purely terrorist organization rather than a kidnap-and-extortion gang.

Apart from obvious sites such as foreign embassies, Philippine intelligence officials say concerns about possible JI targets focus on a huge oil depot located in the heart of the city, not far from Malacanang, the presidential palace. The hit list also includes the Philippine Stock Exchange, major shopping malls and flyovers in Manila. Meanwhile in the south, where the overwhelming majority of the country's more than 3 million Muslims live, hardly a week goes by without some form of deadly attack.

How best to stop the terrorist attacks? National Police Superintendent Robert Delfin is surprisingly optimistic. "No matter the extent of their network, we can monitor them. We know the personalities." Parouk Hussin, Governor of the Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao, is less sanguine. "Personalities may come and go," he warns. "The idea's harder to kill."

By Nelly Sindayen/Manila

THAILAND: Soft targets

Thailand has many. They read like a roll call of Asia's most popular tourist destinations: Phuket, Pattaya, Koh Samui. Thai authorities have been quick to hose down speculation that the kingdom is under threat of a Bali-style attack and have criticized Western governments for issuing travel advisories warning their citizens to avoid, or to take extreme caution, in areas where foreigners congregate. Yet the country is taking anti-terrorism measures. Bar patrons are being frisked, police patrols have been stepped up in places like Phuket, and soldiers are boarding boats for searches off southern Thailand. Even the World Organization of the Scout Movement (WOSM) has left nothing to chance. In late December more than 24,000 scouts will arrive in Thailand to take part in the 20th World Scout Jamboree, to be held at a naval base. More than 1,000 officers from Thailand's army, navy and police force will provide security during the two-week long Jamboree. "Though we do not consider it very likely, we have done our utmost to prevent a terrorist attack," says Lutz Kuhnen, assistant director of WOSM's risk-management unit. "But nothing is 100% safe." The government is most worried, say security analysts, about the country's lucrative tourism industry, which sees the arrival of more than 10 million visitors each year and contributes invaluably to the country's bottom line. There is no doubt that the embassy travel warnings have stung the industry. On the island resort of Phuket bookings are down 15% on the previous year and hotel cancellations are on the rise, a trend reported countrywide.

Fueling the unease is a spate of troublesome reports from the country's Muslim-dominated south. The region has been blighted this year by a series of bomb and arson attacks on schools and hotels and a rash of hits on local cops. Both government and intelligence agencies believe the violence is linked to the region's extortion and smuggling rackets, not international terrorists groups. But no one is taking any chances. While publicly dismissing the possibility of an imminent strike the government has at the same time bolstered security in some of the most popular tourist haunts, at airports and around its porous borders. "We are not a target for international terrorists," insists government spokesman Sita Divari, but he adds: "We are conscious and prepared."

By Andrew Perrin/Bangkok

SINGAPORE: Strict measures

Singapore's much-vaunted internal security apparatus still hasn't quite recovered from the shock of discovering a well-advanced al-Qaeda plot to detonate seven large truck bombs at embassies and other key sites in the city-state late last year. "They were absolutely horrified at how close the plan was to execution," says a source who has worked closely with the Singapore authorities on terrorism issues. Not that the authorities didn't swing into action with characteristic efficiency once the plot was uncovered. With nearly 40 alleged militants now in prison, Singapore officials insist there is no longer "any credible threat" from Jemaah Islamiah cells inside the island republic. But as terror expert Zachary Abuza points out, ultimately, a successful attack in Singapore remains top of the wish list for JI, even if achieving that takes years. "Singapore has enormous symbolic importance as the capitalist center of the region," says Abuza.

Such concerns were highlighted earlier this year when Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong revealed that Mas Selamat Kastari, the "most dangerous" of the 12 or so members of the Singapore Jemaah Islamiah cell who escaped arrest and fled the country, had been planning an attempt to crash a plane into Singapore's Changi Airport. The airport is now reportedly protected by anti-aircraft missiles, as are the huge refinery facilities on the island's southwest section of Jurong, where multinationals such as Shell and Exxon Mobil maintain large facilities. In mid-October Singapore deployed units of its armored division around the area as further safeguards.

By Simon Elegant/Kuala Lumpur

MALAYSIA: Meeting point

Malaysia can justifiably boast that it's ahead of the pack when it comes to cracking down on Islamic militancy. A month before the Sept. 11 attacks, police began making arrests, to date rounding up some 63 alleged terrorist wannabes. But while there's no doubt that Kuala Lumpur is now committed to crushing militancy within its borders, it is Malaysia's dirty little secret that years of turning a blind eye to the activities of radical clerics like alleged Jemaah Islamiah head Abubakar Ba'asyir allowed Islamic radicalism to put down deep roots in the Malaysian Muslim community. There is no arguing, either, with the fact that Malaysia was used by the likes of Abubakar and his alleged henchman Hambali as their haven for over a decade and eventually as a rendezvous for both regional and global militant conclaves organized by JI. Most notorious was the January 2000 meeting attended by up to 12 key JI and al-Qaeda figures, including Tawfiq bin Atash, top suspect in the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole in Yemen in October 2000, two of the Pentagon hijackers, another key al-Qaeda figure Ramzi Binalshibhwho was captured in Karachi on Sept. 11 this yearand, of course, Hambali himself.

With the arrests continuinga senior militant was detained on Sept. 27 and police say they are still pursuing scores of othersthe authorities in Malaysia are "reasonably confident they have taken all possible measures to minimize the danger of an attack," according to one official source in Kuala Lumpur. A Western diplomat points out, however, that Malaysia's past record and continuing role as a meeting place for Islamic radicals (the country's policy of not requiring visas for visitors from Islamic countriesaimed at boosting tourism from the Middle Easthas yet to see any substantial changes) may ironically provide it some measure of protection against terrorism. The diplomat comments: "These people are not stupid. They've got a good thing going in Malaysia. They don't want to mess that up by bombing some expat hangout."

By Simon Elegant/Kuala Lumpur

AUSTRALIA: Southern front

"I'm a wrecknervous and shaky," one woman told the media after police wearing flak jackets and goggles raided her neighbors, a Muslim family living in the Perth suburb of Thornlie. Her jitters have been contagious in the uneasy weeks following the Bali attacks. First came the early November raids on houses around the country, part of an Australian Security Intelligence Organization push to uncover possible connections between Australians and Jemaah Islamiah. That was followed on Nov. 18 by the charging of one of the men raided, a west-Australian convert to Islam, with conspiring to blow up Israeli diplomatic missions in Australia. Jack Roche has protested his innocence, despite giving remarkably frank interviews to The Australian newspaper before his arrest describing his training in Afghanistan in the use of explosives and a meeting in Malaysia with terrorist chief Hambali to discuss the recruitment of JI operatives back home.

But it was the Australian government's upgrading of the state of alert, the day after Roche's arrest, that raised awareness of the domestic terror threat. The government of Prime Minister John Howard said its new informationlinked neither to the raids nor to Roche's casewas "general and non-specific as to target and timing" but suggested a terrorist strike could hit Australia over the next few months. In what is normally a wind-down time of year, with the summer holidays approaching, Australians are now being urged to stay ultra vigilant.

By Lisa Clausen/Sydney


Terrorism lives on. Peacekeepers in Kabul repeatedly stumble on banks of rockets aimed at their bases, the airport or the U.S. embassy. A week ago, Afghan security forces scuppered an attempt to destroy the main power station. American bases are rocketed an average of three times a week; four were recently attacked in one night. Yet another special forces convoy was ambushed on Nov 21. Two cabinet ministers have been assassinated this year, and on Sept. 5 an attempt was made on President Hamid Karzai's life.

All this is happening because al-Qaeda fighters are venturing out from training camps just over the border in Pakistan and from toeholds inside Afghanistan, and Taliban remnants are regrouping. Meanwhile, rural Afghans have grown disenchanted with empty promises of increased aid. Living conditions have improved little since the Taliban's collapse, providing fresh recruits for al-Qaeda and Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistan. Until the harsh economic conditions are alleviated and Karzai's vision of a new, democratic Afghanistan is fulfilled, terror will persist.

By Michael Ware/Kabul

PAKISTAN: Den of terror

In Pakistan, al-Qaeda is thriving. Its tactic has been to contract out its terror work to local hirelingsand there are a multitude. Police are investigating links between Osama bin Laden's network and a spate of anti-Western attacks this past year: the kidnapping and murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl, bomb attacks in Karachi on the U.S. consulate and on a bus full of French submarine technicians and massacres of Christians. President Pervez Musharraf pledged full cooperation to the U.S. in its search for al-Qaeda. But those orders are not always trickling down to the middle-ranking officers in his army and intelligence corps who sympathized with, and had close ties to, the Taliban regime.

For now, Pakistan is probably more of an actual terrorist sanctuary than a prime terrorist target. (Among other wanted extremists, Indonesian Hambali, Jemaah Islamiah's operations chief, has also reportedly sought refuge there.) The last thing al-Qaeda and its local supporters want is for Musharraf to have an excuse to crack down on the Islamic radical parties. After the strong showing in the Oct. 10 general elections, the religious parties will control Baluchistan and Northwest Frontier Provinceshideouts for al-Qaeda and Taliban fugitives. These radical clerics may either put a stop to the FBI's investigations in these provinces outright, or at least thwart raids on al-Qaeda strongholds by refusing to let local police take part.

By Tim McGirk/Islamabad

INDIA: Watching and waiting

Indian investigators say the country is always at risk because al-Qaeda needs an existing support structure for communications and sanctuary, easily provided by Pakistan-based extremists fighting a jihad in Kashmir. The failed attack on Parliament last December, which ended with 14 dead including the five suicide terrorists, was an example of Kashmiri separatist terrorism. Now, security agencies are bracing for the next big strike, which they fear could target Western government or business interests. "We don't know what and where it will be," says an Indian intelligence official, "but it will certainly be dramatic."

There is another possible impetus for an attack. Gujaratis go to the polls in mid-December, and the ruling Hindu nationalist BJP party's agenda is a barely disguised campaign against Muslims. A strike would serve as a warning that Muslims will not be cowed. "Once an attack happens, we will all say, 'That is so obvious, why didn't we think of it,'" warns the official. "That is what people are saying about Bali now."

By Meenakshi Ganguly/New Delhi