By Jason Tedjasukmana Monday, TIME, May. 30, 2005
Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s first visit to the U.S. last week was all about opening doors between the two countries, so it came as a surprise when the U.S. embassy in Jakarta announced Thursday that its own doors were shutting indefinitely along with those of all other U.S. facilities in the mostly Muslim country, including consulates in Surabaya and Bali.
It was the first wholesale closure since late 2002, when the embassy received intelligence of an imminent attack in Southeast Asia shortly before that October’s Bali bombings. This time, embassy officials declined to comment on their reasons, referring requests for information to a bulletin for overseas Americans that cites a “security threat” against U.S. interests.
That threat may have emanated from a Nauru-registered Islamist website run by the previously unknown Brigade Istimata Internasional, which features what it claims is a floor plan of a U.S. embassy and lays out ways to attack the ambassador’s office with rocket-propelled grenades or a mixture of TNT and the rodenticide Rodex. Anti-American sentiment has been running high in Indonesia, with the recently retracted Newsweek report on abuses of the Koran at the U.S.’s Guant namo Bay detention camp prompting protests in several cities. And Indonesian newspapers reported last week that a group of 23 Indonesians were believed to be back in the country after training at a camp belonging to regional terrorist network Jemaah Islamiah (J.I.) in the Philippines. “The combination of these events may have been enough to force the embassy to take action,” says Ken Conboy, a Jakarta-based security consultant and author of a forthcoming book on J.I.
The closures come at an awkward time for the Indonesian government, with Yudhoyono wrapping up his otherwise successful trip to Washington. The two sides reached an agreement on sales of nonlethal equipment to Indonesia’s military, long withheld because of accusations of widespread human-rights abuses. But it was also hoped that Yudhoyono’s visit would help entice foreign investors to Indonesia who are still skeptical over corruption and spooked by the country’s terrorist rumblings a fear that the embassy closure does nothing to assuage. It’s possible, though, that the shutdown might actually strengthen Yudhoyono’s hand in dealing with the U.S.
By highlighting the continuing possibility of terrorist attacks, says Indra Piliang, a political analyst at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, “it may even help him get more support from the U.S. in the war on terror.” With such threats still very real, better ties are more important than ever.