SYDNEY (AFP) – Australia warned the arrest in Pakistan of an alleged mastermind of the 2002 Bali bombings could spark revenge attacks against Westerners in Indonesia, and cautioned nationals against going there.
Officials announced on Wednesday that a man thought to be Umar Patek, one of the most wanted Islamic extremists in Southeast Asia, was in Pakistani custody.
Patek, who had a $1 million bounty on his head, was the alleged field coordinator for the massive Bali nightclub attacks that killed more than 200 people, almost 90 of them Australians.
In updated advice, Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said on its website that Australians should reconsider travel to Indonesia, particularly Bali.
“Information in March 2011 indicates that terrorists may be planning attacks in Indonesia, which could take place at any time,” it said, without specifying what the new information was or where it came from.
But the travel advice alluded to Patek’s arrest, which it said “may increase the risk of violent responses in Indonesia in the short term”.
“On some occasions where high-profile extremists have been detained or killed, there has been a strong response from some supporters in Indonesia, including acts of violence,” it said.
“We consider that any terrorist attacks are more likely to focus on places where large numbers of Westerners gather, including, but not limited to, tourist areas in islands such as Bali, as well as Jakarta and other places in Indonesia.”
The last significant bombing in Indonesia — the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country — was carried out by two suicide attackers who killed seven people at two luxurious Jakarta hotels in July 2009.
Patek is a suspected member of Al-Qaeda-linked Southeast Asian terror network Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), blamed for a series of deadly bombings targeting Christians and Westerners in Indonesia dating back to 1999.
Indonesian authorities had believed he was hiding among Islamic rebels in the southern Philippines. The International Crisis Group think tank reported in 2008 that he had become the commander of foreign jihadists there.
Patek reportedly returned to Indonesia early last year to join a new militant group being set up in Aceh province by another alleged Bali ringleader, Dulmatin.
Dulmatin was killed during an Indonesian police raid in March 2010, and Patek disappeared from the radar.