The Hon. Alexander Downer, MP
The Hon. Alexander Downer, MP


27 February 2006

Speech to the Indonesia Crime Prevention Foundation (ICPF) Seminar on International Cooperation Against Terrorism, Focus on Suicide Bombing as a Symptom of Terrorism

Keynote Speech on Suicide Bombing and Counter-Terrorism Efforts

"Building International Cooperation Against Terrorism: Focussing on Suicide Bombing as a Symptom of Terrorism"

Your Excellency, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.

I would like to thank my counterpart and good friend, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Hassan Wirajuda, and Dai Bachtiar, Chairman of the Indonesia Crime Prevention Foundation for inviting me to deliver the keynote address at the opening of this important seminar, which will look at ways of building international cooperation against terrorism, in particular against the practice of suicide bombing.

Let me begin by making some general observations while I am in the country which has the world's largest Muslim population.

The first is this: one of the greatest challenges of our age is to ensure that as we fight terrorism, extremism and intolerance, we do not at the same time trigger broader conflict between civilisations. To characterise this fight against terrorism as a fight against Islam is to invite not just a clash of civilisations but the broadening of support for terrorists. Terrorists target Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Jews, Hindus, agnostics, atheists - in short, people of all faiths, philosophies and nationalities.

The second observation I would make is that we live in a world where the true struggle is between the tolerant and the intolerant, - between people of reason and compassion - and extremists who do not value human life. It is not a struggle between Islam and Christianity.

We must work together, Australians and Indonesians, Muslims and non-Muslims, to defeat intolerant killers. There is an old saying and a good one: tolerant people shouldn't have to tolerate the intolerant.

What makes suicide attacks different?

So we are here today to focus and work together on that fight against the extremists.

A casual observer might wonder why the special focus of this terrorism seminar is the use of suicide attacks as a tactic.

After all, any attack that succeeds in killing innocent civilians is equally reprehensible.

But there are some features of this phenomenon which do make it worthy of special attention by counter-terrorism experts, practitioners and policy makers.

Suicide tactics are typically the most lethal - the bomb in effect becomes both mobile and adaptable to wreak maximum carnage.

The willingness of misguided young men - and occasionally women - to die in the act of terrorism makes planning and execution easier and, in most cases, makes the carnage all the greater.

But even more importantly, the suicide attack has become an important weapon in the terrorist's political arsenal.

The use of human bombs allows terrorists to gain maximum publicity for their outrages.

It permits them to portray themselves, and their acts, in heroic terms.

It allows them to appropriate historical and religious traditions of genuine self-sacrifice.

And the images of destruction serve as grizzly recruiting posters to attract misguided and vulnerable recruits.

While this is truly an international gathering - bringing together a wide range of law enforcement and crime prevention practitioners, representatives from academia and from a variety of NGOs and religious groups from over 30 countries - I wish to focus on South-East Asia's experience with suicide bombings.

Indonesia bearing the brunt

The fact that this conference is being hosted by Indonesia is especially appropriate.

All known suicide bombings that have taken place in South-East Asia have occurred on Indonesian soil, and many of the victims have been Indonesian and Muslim.

The other common feature of suicide bombings in our region is Jemaah Islamiyah - JI has been directly or indirectly involved in every one of South-East Asia's suicide attacks.

Our region's, and JI's, first suicide terrorist attack occurred on 12 October 2002 with the bombings of the Sari Club and Paddy's Bar in Bali.

Of the 202 innocent victims, from more than 20 nationalities, 88 were Australian and 39 Indonesian.

The August 2003 JI suicide bombing Jakarta's Marriott Hotel killed 12 people - the majority of them Indonesian.

In the Australian Government's White Paper on Transnational Terrorism released in July 2004, we assessed that the trend by JI towards using suicide bombers was likely to continue.

It gives me no pleasure that our assessment was accurate.

In September 2004 suicide bombers linked to JI attacked the Australian Embassy killing 10 people - most of them Indonesian, including members of our Embassy's local staff, who we miss greatly.

And on 1 October last year, as we were preparing to commemorate the lives lost in the first Bali bombings, three suicide bombers struck restaurants in Bali, killing 20 people, including 15 Indonesians and four Australians.

In addition to these attacks, we know of a number of foiled terrorist plots likely to have included suicide attacks.

The 2001 plot led by JI leader Hambali to attack Western diplomatic missions - including Australia's - in Singapore, included plans for suicide truck bombs.

And as revealed by US President Bush earlier this month, Hambali played the key role in recruiting South-East Asians as suicide bombers for Al Qaeda's planned attack on the Los Angeles 'Library Tower'.

No-one knows how many such attacks might have happened in Indonesia by now, but for the professionalism and tenacity of the Indonesian National Police and other security agencies, who have brought about the arrest of well over 200 terrorists and terror suspects over the past few years.

Why do they do it?

What motivates such suicide bombers is not always easy to identify.

We should look beneath their slogans and examine what really drives some people to destroy their lives in order to wreak carnage on their fellow human beings.

Following the attacks of 9/11, there was a surge in academic interest in the psychology of terrorists and suicide bombers.

Some important work was produced, including on the profiling of terrorists - such as the work by Robert Pape and Marc Sageman - and research into the recruiting and grooming methods employed by terrorists.

I will leave the detailed analysis of the phenomenon of suicide terrorism to the eminent participants and speakers at this conference.

But I would like to touch on some of what is known about suicide bombing, in particular as practiced by JI in our region.

The research of Robert Pape, who has established a database containing all known suicide bombers from the 1980s onwards, highlights the fact that, historically, there is no special linkage between suicide bombing and Islam.

In fact, his research notes that the most common exponents of suicide bombing have been the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka.

Nevertheless, suicide has become a major feature of modern transnational terrorism, as practiced by groups such as Al Qaeda and JI, who claim they carry out their attacks in the name of Islam.

But, as Muslims know, suicide is forbidden in Islam. As is murder.

A landmark two-year study by the London-based Islamic think tank Ihsanic [I-san-ic] Intelligence, comprising some of the best Islamic legal minds in the world, concluded unequivocally that

"the technique of suicide bombing is anathema, antithetical and abhorrent to Sunni Islam.

It is considered legally forbidden, constituting an enormity of sin combining suicide and murder and theologically an act which has consequences of eternal damnation"

So how is it that these young JI followers in Bali and Jakarta over the past four years come to think that killing tourists, restaurant staff, and office workers - many of them fellow Muslims - is justified in the name of God?

The pattern that we can discern is typically that of the religious cult.

We note the charismatic but fanatical leadership; the distorted interpretations of religious doctrines; the deliberate seeking out and grooming of young, easily-influenced followers; the careful separation from family and community; the rejection of outside influences and ideas; and, of course, the morbid obsession with death.

This is the "cult of martyrdom" on which Al Qaeda and JI pin their hopes.

These extremists cloak themselves in the language of Islam. But this cult also represents a very serious defamation of Islam.

Legal scholars agree that the Koran calls on Muslims to defend themselves, but only if attacked.

And even then it draws a distinction between combatants and non-combatants.

The slaughter of civilians, of any faith, is always forbidden.

The political objectives of the terrorist leaders

It is perhaps natural that we feel anger towards those suicide bombers who destroy innocent lives.

But surely we must also feel a sense of pity for these young men - to date in our region all suicide bombers have been men - who have been brainwashed into believing that they are serving God.

For while these suicide bombers truly do believe they are acting in accordance with their religion, their controllers have clear political goals.

Because JI attacks western tourists and embassies, it is sometimes assumed that the West is their main target.

It is not.

Their main targets lie in the Muslim world.

The attacks on westerners in Indonesia were designed to destroy the Indonesian tourist industry and investor confidence in Indonesia.

An outward-looking tolerant and prosperous Indonesia is no good to them.

The ultimate objective of terrorists such as JI and Al Qaeda is to create a new extremist Caliphate in the Muslim world - a Taliban style theocracy.

In South-East Asia that means driving out western influence, bringing down its modern economy, and establishing a fundamentalist regime across Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore, Southern Thailand and the Southern Philippines.

They want to get rid of democracy in these countries and replace it with a puritanical and tyrannical regime that denies individual freedoms.

We know all this because they tell us so themselves.

Their political agenda is spelled out in countless speeches, writings and websites.

There is no ambiguity.

They want us to understand what is coming.

And they plan to achieve all this by installing totalitarian regimes that enforce obedience through fear.

Because they know that when people are able freely to choose their leaders they will not opt for a totalitarian state.

We have seen in Indonesia the outcome of genuinely free elections.

It is the world's largest nation of Muslims, and when Indonesians are able to choose freely they have supported the secular democratic state you have created here.

The ideological struggle

So what is the solution to the phenomenon of suicide terrorism, and terrorism more generally?

Over the past several years it has become very clear that, despite the considerable successes achieved by law enforcement agencies, countering the tactics of terrorist groups such as JI is not enough.

Unless we want our children and our children's children to be fighting this battle in years to come, we need to address the key drivers of the problem.

And those key drivers are not poverty, nor oppression, nor religion.

They are a belief system, an ideology and clear political objectives.

And while it is an ugly ideology, we cannot deny that their conspiracy theories and propaganda have been partially effective.

Through clever use of the media, the internet, youth networks and charitable organisation, they have created a flattering image for themselves.

At the same time they have sought to portray Islam as under attack: beset by enemies abroad and betrayed by political leaders at home.

Unless effectively challenged, this corrosive world view may gradually take hold, particularly amongst the young and the impressionable - the main target audience for JI.

Many who disapprove of the terrorists' methods may still find themselves attracted to this simplistic analysis.

But, in a sense, this belief system is potentially also the terrorists' great weakness - because their beliefs are so much at odds with mainstream Islamic thought and tradition.

The Muslim world is already undertaking important efforts to ensure the correct the teaching of Islam and to provide Islamic legal interpretations which condemn and denounce terrorism, including suicide attacks.

King Abdullah II of Jordan has shown courage and leadership in his efforts to promote intra-faith dialogue within Islam.

He continues to pursue ongoing dialogue with Mulsim leaders and scholars around the world to promote his "Amman Message", which rejects extremism as a deviation of Islamic beliefs.

He convened the first International Islamic Conference in July 2005 that brought together Islam's eight main schools of religious law.

For the first time in history, consensus was reached on critical issues such as the illegitimacy of extremist fatwas justifying terrorism.

And Muslim leaders condemned the practice of 'takfir' - whereby Muslims who reject the extremist path may be declared apostate, and therefore killed freely.

In our own region, we commend the efforts of the Government and people of Indonesia, in particular following the second Bali bombings, to confront the extremist ideology behind terrorist groups such as JI.

Including, Vice-President Kalla's initiative to establish the Anti-Terror Team, comprising represenatives from the Ministry of Religious Affairs and leading Muslim organisations, to better educate people that terrorist ideology is based on a flawed understanding of Islam and the Koran.

Of course, worthy efforts are being made by Governments, religious and community leaders throughou the region to counter terrorist ideology.

It is vital that these efforts continue and succeed.

Inter-faith dialogue

Alongside this intra-faith process currently taking place within Islam, inter-faith understanding must also be improved.

I noted earlier that the main target of the extremists is the Muslim world and not the West.

But if they can drive us apart, they will.

If, for example, they could drive a wedge between the people of Indonesia and the people of Australia, they would count that as a sweet victory.

We won't let them.

I was proud to co-host with Foreign Minister Wirajuda the Bali meeting in December 2004 that brought together religious and community leaders from thirteen countries.

President Yudhoyono opened that conference.

And the region will come together again in the Philippines next month for the second Interfaith Dialogue where we will work together to further deepen relations among faiths, communities and societies that seek peace and stability.


I would like to wish you well in your deliberations at this conference.

As a policy maker, I would urge you to harness the considerable intellectual muscle present in this room to generate some fresh and innovative thinking around this dreadful problem.

Having flown up from Australia last night, I am now going to the airport to fly home again.

It is a long trip to deliver a 15 minute speech.

But it reflects the utter seriousness with which we view this threat and the respect we have toward our Indonesian hosts and their commitment to fight terrorism in our region.

And if this conference can come up with even a small number of really effective, practical ideas on how we, as a community, can rid ourselves of this scourge, then this trip would have been well worth it.

Thank you.