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February, 2019

What ever happened to Jemaah Islamiyah?

The once little known radical Islamist group Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) was at one time considered the biggest threat to Australian National Security.

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And while security organisations like ASIO have seen a 535 per cent rise in funding since the Bali bombings, the fact is that JI in Indonesia has largely been silenced. Or has it?

Leah Farrall was formerly a senior counter-terrorism intelligence analyst with the Australian Federal Police (AFP), serving as the senior intelligence analyst in the AFP’s forward operating post in Jakarta in response to the second Bali bombings.

Here’s a breakdown of the death toll from the October 12, 2002 Bali bombings:

She has mixed opinions about the success of the Indonesian and international counter-terrorism efforts to subdue the group.

“On one hand, there has been a generational clean-out and the Indonesian police have done a very good job at taking a law enforcement approach,” she says.

“I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily been de-radicalised, the schools are still functioning, the ideology is still very much there, there’s still people planning attacks, the capacity to do so appears to have been removed.”

But Ms Farrall says the seeds of radical Islam might still be being sown in the Indonesian prison system.

“Overall it’s been quite successful. But then you look at the problem of radicalisations in jails that’s still taking place in Indonesia.”

“You can see that there is a younger generation out there, that a small section of which is still committed to violent attacks. What they are missing is the older folks that radicalise and guide them,” she says.

“Jail is not necessarily a place where you should be able to propagate beliefs that you’re in jail for acting upon in the first place.”

Ms Farrall says there has been an introversion, with a move towards targeting government officials in Indonesia that has removed any public support that the organisation may have enjoyed.

“[It’s} not allowing them to promote a war narrative,” she said.

Listen (above) to Leah Farrall talk about her time in Indonesia in the wake of the bombings and how the group came and went from prominence amid a surge in counter-terrorism funding and research.

Bailout bonuses taxed at 90 per cent

The Democratic majority rallied a large swath of President Barack Obama\’s Republican critics as lawmakers voted 328-93 for the legislation as the outcry over payouts raised the heat on Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.

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“We want our money back, and we want our money back now,” Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said during the often bitter debate. “Here\’s one way to get it.”

The 90 per cent tax, written with American International Group in mind, would apply to employees whose total annual pay exceeded $US250,000 at firms that received more than five billion dollars in government rescue funds.

“Today\’s vote rightly reflects the outrage that so many feel over the lavish bonuses that AIG provided its employees at the expense of the taxpayers who have kept this failed company afloat,” Obama said in a statement.

But while some of the anger expressed by the public as well as lawmakers has been aimed at the Obama administration, the president later went on a late night talk show to say the crisis was his to solve.

\’Strong signal\’ to bosses

“Ultimately, I am now the guy responsible to fix it,” Obama said on NBC\’s Tonight Show with Jay Leno.

The Senate could as early as Friday take up its own bonus-hunting measure, which could impose excise taxes of up to 70 per cent, but efforts to act quickly on the House bill hit a snag as Republicans demanded hearings before any vote.

The two chambers would need to reconcile any differences before Obama can sign the measure into law.

“I look forward to receiving a final product that will serve as a strong signal to the executives who run these firms that such compensation will not be tolerated,” Obama said during a trip to California.

AIG, alive only thanks to $US170 billion in government rescue money, dished out $US165 million in bonuses to top executives, including some in the division blamed for putting the once-mighty insurer on life support.

Calls for Geithner\’s resignation

Under fire for not blocking the payouts before handing over $US30 billion in aid this month, Geithner said he took “full responsibility” but pleaded that he learned too late “the full scale” of the fiasco.

“It\’s my responsibility. I was in a position where I didn\’t know about those sooner. I take full responsibility for that,” he told CNN television.

Some Republicans were nevertheless calling for Geithner\’s resignation.

“I\’ve lost confidence in him, and I think many Americans have lost confidence in him,” Republican Congressman Greg Walden told the Fox network.

“I thnk he\’s let down the president and I think he\’s let down the country.”

Investigation into AIG bonuses

Republicans blamed Democrats for diluting a measure that would have blocked the bonuses and redoubled their charges that Geithner knew, or should have known, that the awards were coming and therefore could have stopped them.

“This political circus that\’s going on here today with this bill is not getting to the bottom of the questions of who knew what, and when did they know it,” said Republican Minority Leader John Boehner.

In a symbolic warning to the White House, House Democrats failed to win enough backing to pass a non-binding resolution commending Obama\’s handling of AIG, a newly potent political symbol of reckless greed.

Meanwhile, the US government\’s chief overseer of rescue funds known as the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) announced an investigation into the AIG bonuses, including what role the US Treasury played in approving the payments.

Neil Barofsky, who took over in December as the TARP special inspector-general, promised lawmakers he would “act aggressively to recover the taxpayer\’s money” if wrongdoing were found at AIG.

Government lifeline

The probe will cover “who knew what, how, when and why,” he told lawmakers on the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee.

AIG informed the US Federal Reserve three months ago that it would pay the bonuses on March 15, but the Fed failed to notify Treasury or White House officials for months, The Washington Post reported Thursday.

AIG was saved from bankruptcy with an $US85 billion government lifeline in September.

The bailout has since mushroomed to more than $US170 billion, leaving taxpayers with an 80 per cent stake in the company.

The insurance giant was rescued because the US government believed its intricate web of ties with banks worldwide posed an imminent risk of financial collapse not just for the United States but globally.

\’Resign or commit suicide\’, AIG executives told

New revelations about staggering bonuses awarded to employees who brought giant insurer AIG to its knees fuelled a political firestorm as Washington struggled to contain the fallout.

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The controversy engulfing bailed-out American International Group threatened to turn nasty amid reports of death threats against AIG workers, as US networks and newspapers were inundated with expressions of rage from the public.

Politicians said they were looking at punitive tax measures to reclaim the bonuses paid largely to the same London-based financial products traders who brought ruin to AIG and helped ignite the global financial crisis.

Total bonuses exceed $242m

In the latest disclosures of what has become a critical test for President Barack Obama, New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said AIG paid out more than $US160 million ($A242 million) dollars in bonuses to staff at its financial products unit.

Cuomo, who slapped subpoenas on AIG on Monday as part of a probe into Wall Street excess, said 73 AIG employees each received bonuses of one million dollars or more.

The top 10 recipients were paid a total of $US42 million ($A63.6 million) dollars, with one executive getting $US6.4 million ($A9.7 million) alone. And 11 executives quit AIG despite being paid “retention” bonuses of at least a million dollars each to stay.

“These payments were all made to individuals … whose performance led to crushing losses and the near failure of AIG,” Cuomo wrote in a letter to Congress.

“Something is deeply wrong with this outcome.”

News of the departure of the 11 employees from the insurance giant made a mockery of government-appointed AIG boss Edward Liddy\’s argument that the bonuses were necessary to retain “the best and brightest talent”.

Washington struggles for control

“Given the trillion-dollar portfolio at AIG Financial Products, retaining key traders and risk managers is critical to our goal of repayment,” he wrote in a letter on Saturday to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.

With Geithner accused of bungling the controversy, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said Obama had “complete confidence” in the Treasury chief and said “everybody is offended by every aspect” of the bonuses.

Despite Obama\’s vow on Monday to “pursue every single legal avenue to block these bonuses,” the administration has struggled to explain how it can do that without tearing up iron-clad contracts awarded last April to AIG staff.

‘Resign or commit suicide’

Republicans turned up the political heat on Obama, who must tread a fine line between riding public fury against Wall Street without eroding congressional support for forthcoming measures to prop up tottering banks.

John Boehner, the minority leader in the House of Representatives, noted that Gibbs had two weeks ago expressed confidence that taxpayer money given to AIG was being well spent after its brush with death last September.

“I think this is outrageous, and I think the American people are rightly outraged that their tax money is going to pay bonuses to the very people that got this company in trouble,” he said.

Gibbs has said that Geithner is looking at recouping the bonus money out of his latest $US30 billion ($A45.5 billion)infusion for AIG, which has taken the insurer\’s total bailout to $US180 billion ($A273 billion).

Barney Frank, the powerful Democratic chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, noted that the US taxpayer now controls 80 per cent of AIG\’s equity.

“I think the time has come to exercise our ownership rights,” he said, calling on the Obama administration to exercise much tougher control over AIG.

Charles Grassley, the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, demanded that top AIG executives show “contrition” but said his suggestion on Monday that they “resign or go commit suicide” was just political talk.

Staff receive death threats

Hired guards have been posted outside the offices of AIG Financial Products in suburban Connecticut and inside, employees have been flooded with emailed death threats, the Washington Post reported.

As Geithner readies a plan to clean out US banks\’ bad debts, a new poll by CNN and Opinion Research Corp said that 41 per cent of the public believes the US government should pull the plug on distressed lenders.

A total of 39 per cent backed a temporary nationalisation, and just 18 per cent supported the idea of the government extending more bailout money without taking over the banks.

Indian Muslims \’worried\’ after Mumbai attacks

From peace marches to calls for a toned-down religious celebration, Mumbai\’s Muslims are doing all they can to dissociate themselves from last week\’s attacks carried out in the name of Islam.

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Even though dozens of the 172 dead were Muslim, community leaders have expressed concerns that Hindu nationalists could exploit the attacks either for political gain — or could target Muslims directly.

The city\’s Muslims, who make up about 15 per cent of Mumbai\’s estimated 19-million-strong population, were to take to the streets after Friday prayers in a peace march.

Celebrations may be affected

Leading figures in the community have called for Eid al-Adha celebrations to be limited only to those rituals that are strictly necessary.

Eid-al-Adha commemorates the prophet Ibrahim\’s obedience to God through his willingness to sacrifice his son and is marked by the ritual slaughter of animals.

A number of Islamic organisations are also categorically refusing to have those responsible for the deadly attacks buried on Indian soil.

“An Indian Muslim is as much worried, shocked or disturbed as his neighbour,” said Bollywood scriptwriter Javed Akhtar, a self-declared atheist who nonetheless still considers himself part of the Muslim community.

“In a perfect world it would not be necessary to say it. The attackers are pretending to hold the flag of Islam and acting in the name of \’jihad\’ (holy struggle).

“Anybody who is a Muslim has to distance him or herself who are giving this diabolic face of Islam.”

\’Unfounded\’ accusations

Religious leader Moulana Mustaqueem A. Azmi said that Indian Muslims “have been saying for the last five or six years that they have nothing to do with this but are struggling to defend themselves from accusations against them.”

Azmi, the secretary of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Maharashtra, the body of Islamic scholars in Maharashtra state, of which Mumbai is the capital, said that Muslim groups were weaker in India than those representing the majority Hindus.

But Akhtar is against the idea that Islam in India should have a united voice.

“The very concept that Muslims should have a leadership, that Hindus should have a leadership, that Christians should have a leadership, would divide India along religious lines,” he said.

\’Conspiracy\’

For Moulana Mustaqueem A. Azmi, the Mumbai attacks smacked of a conspiracy between the Israeli secret service, Mossad, and the right-wing Hindu nationalist organisation Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

“All the attacks in India in recent years, wherever they\’ve happened, have been blamed on Muslims but that\’s changing and they don\’t like it,” he added, referring to two fatal bombings in Maharashtra and neighbouring Gujarat state.

Both blasts in September happened in predominantly Muslim areas, including outside a mosque, and have since been blamed on Hindu extremists, allegedly outraged by a string of attacks directed against middle-class Hindus.

Right-wing Hindu groups, which have a bedrock of support in Mumbai and the state, have not spoken out publicly against Muslims in the wake of the attacks.

Muslim leaders hope it stays that way and there is no repeat of the deadly communal violence between Hindus and Muslims in 1992-93, sparked by the razing of a mosque in north India and retaliatory attacks in Gujarat.

“Political parties that make statements likely to create divisions among religious lines should be banned,” said Mohammed Mansoor Ali Qadami, head of the powerful All India Sunni Jamiat-ul-Ulema coalition, clearly referring to Hindu nationalists.

On Tuesday, the coalition told a meeting of 50 Islamic organisations that political parties should not try to take advantage of the tragedy as general elections approach next year.

Indian community \’frantic\’ at news of attack

News of the Mumbai terrorist attacks has triggered a frenzy of calls from Australia\’s Indian community to relatives back home, with one woman saying she panicked when hearing her niece\’s hotel had been targeted.

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At least 87 people were killed in a series of attacks apparently targeting foreigners late on Wednesday, as heavily armed Islamist militants hit two luxury hotels.

President of the Sydney-based India Club, Shubha Kumar, said the local Indian community woke to news of the shocking attacks, sparking a flurry of calls to relatives back home.

Ms Kumar said she panicked as her niece was staying at the Trident Hotel, formerly known as the Oberoi.

“I was very frantic – when they went into detail and named the Oberoi, I got panicked and started ringing around,” she told AAP.

“It was a bit of a shock. It was the first time I realised how people feel when one of their loved ones get involved in a situation like this.”

Ms Kumar said she finally got in contact with the girl\’s father, who said she had escaped from the hotel after staff marshalled guests onto the street.

“She is safe now and she was admiring the Oberoi hotel people, who were very systematic and very organised in getting all the guests out from the hotel into the basement area to a safe place, then they took them out on the street,” she said.

“I am feeling very grateful for my niece, but very sorry and very concerned for other people who relatives and family members have got caught in this mess.”

Other family members living in Mumbai had already contacted Ms Kumar, and she said she would now contact other Indians living in Australia to see how they were coping.

“The Indian community will be very disturbed and shocked,” she said.

“There is a big community from Bombay (Mumbai) here, plus a lot of people have relatives living outside Bombay.”

Ms Kumar admitted not knowing much about the Deccan Mujahedeen other than what she had learned from the media.

“What is disturbing is that these terrorist attacks are increasing in number, and they are targeting places like Mumbai,” she said.

“I think they are trying to get attention. They know if they hit these areas they will get a lot of publicity out of it.”