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Was Soccer Team a Target in Jakarta Hotel Bombings?

July 27th 2009

Terrorism - Manchester United player
Manchester United in the red jersey

The double bombing of the Marriott and Ritz Carlton hotels in Jakarta that killed nine people and wounded over sixty was a clear attack on Western targets. The organizers were members of Jama Islamiya, an al Qaeda splinter. Even before JI publicly claimed responsibility for the attack, it was easy to determine that they were the perpetrators. All the indications were there—and not just because this same Marriot hotel was hit in 2003 by this same group, killing twelve people.

Luxury hotels are obvious targets. Western travelers enjoy luxury hotels around the world. Indonesia is the most populated Muslim country in the world. Indonesia is therefore the perfect place for extremists to ply their trade. Clearly, this attack was intended to cause a bigger bang for the terrorist world than it actually did cause. Was it just another bloody attack on a luxury hotel—or was something more at play?

Missing from media coverage of the bombing was the information that the famed Manchester United team was scheduled to be staying at the now-devastated Ritz Hotel. The famed team was in Jakarta to play against the national team of Indonesia. Manchester United is one of the greatest teams in the soccer world. Soccer greatly eclipses all other team sports everywhere in the world outside the United States. Hundreds of millions of people around the world follow soccer. What’s more, Manchester United is owned by American Jewish businessman Malcolm Glazer.

Terrorists attack symbols. It is probable that these terrorists aimed at but missed out on striking two very recognizable symbols: Jewish business and a globally loved sports icon.

The CIA missed all of this, assuming that JI was defunct, a terrorist arm was no longer in operation. One CIA source even said that Jama Islamiya came "out of the grave" to hit these two hotels. In a classic mistake of Western intelligence, because the group had been silent, because the proverbial head of the snake had once been removed, the CIA thought the group to be dead. The CIA thought snake; they should always be thinking hydra.

Americans tend to think of terror as a snake, slithering, scaly, poisonous, deadly. Terror, however, is not a snake, but rather a hydra, the many-headed serpent from Greek mythology. Students of the classic will recall that the monster slain by the Greek god Hercules grew back two heads each time one was chopped off.

Cutting off the head—in this case either arresting or killing many JI leaders, undoubtedly did slow down the organization, but did not kill it. The quiet time allowed Jama Islamiya to morph, grow and evolve, under the radar of Western intelligence. Western intelligence, in an act of benign neglect brought on by ignorance and self aggrandizement, cleared the field for Jama Islamiya to carry out this devastating act of terror.

The Jakarta hotel bombings perpetrated by Jama Islamiya offer an important lesson in the study of terrorist activities. If the security apparatus pays attention the genesis of this attack, it will learn a lot about the bio-rhythm of al Qaeda and al Qaeda splinter groups. The hydra rests, but the hydra does not sleep.

Cutting Edge commentator Micah D. Halpern is the author of THUGS, and edits The Micah Report.

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