It's the house that Bali built.
The opening of a new regional counterterrorism center in Malaysia
this month symbolizes how far governments in southeast Asia have
come in their willingness to confront terrorism.
Located in Kuala Lumpur, the Southeast Asia Regional Center for
Counter-Terrorism will house researchers and host training seminars
for regional officials. While the center itself will not be an
intelligence agency involved in operations, Southeast Asia's
governments have already moved toward deeper intelligence sharing
and joint investigations, say analysts.
"Police forces are cooperating better now, it's really a dramatic
improvement that's paying off in terms of arrests," says Zachary
Abuza, a professor at Simmons College in Boston and the author of a
forthcoming book on terrorism in Southeast Asia.
But it wasn't always this way.
When Secretary of State Colin Powell first raised the idea of an
counterterrorism center in 2002 during a visit to the region,
critics asked if such a move was necessary.
Would this be a Trojan horse, enabling the US to install a
military base? Or an attempt to drag the region into a costly US-
But such doubts were quashed by last October's nightclub bombing
in Bali, Indonesia, and the economic ripple effect caused by fear of
more attacks on resorts. Even countries like Thailand, with few
visible signs of such extremism, were caught short as Western
tourists decided to stay home.
"The bottom line is that unless governments perceive a direct and
immediate threat from terrorism, they won't take action against
terrorist groups in their territory," says Rohan Gunaratna, a
terrorism expert at Singapore's Institute for Defense and Strategic
Investigators have since dug deeper into the secret networks that
allowed Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), the Al Qaeda-affiliated group behind
the Bali attack, to recruit and train followers in several
countries. And what they have discovered underscores the need for
continued regional cooperation to bring terror groups to heel.
The trial of Indonesian cleric Abu Bakar Bashir, accused of
plotting to overthrow the government as head of JI, recently heard
evidence from witnesses in Malaysia and Singapore. But because the
witnesses are outside the country, Mr. Bashir's lawyers have tried
unsuccessfully to dismiss the testimony as inadmissible in court.
FOR Indonesia, which once spurned offers from its neighbors to
help snare Bashir, who spent much of the '90s in Malaysia, such
cooperation marks a major turnaround. …