Blame It on Al Qaeda

Media Hypes Sniper Conspiracy Theory

On October 14, Indonesian defense minister Matori Abdul Djalil said, "We are sure Al Qaeda is here," but offered no evidence. Later that day, Bush said, "I think we have to assume it's Al Qaeda." The same day, the New York Post quoted a U.S. intelligence expert who theorized that the Bali bombings had all the earmarks of Al Qaeda: "There were near simultaneous explosions designed to inflict the greatest amount of casualties on innocent people. It's clearly the work of a sophisticated terrorist organization."

The Times ran scary photos of Bashir almost every day last week. But there were no photos of Hambali, the man allegedly in charge of operations for Jemaah Islamiyah, who remains at large. You wouldn't know it from reading the Times, but some analysts have dismissed the arrest of Bashir as easy pickings and purely symbolic.

At the end of the week the Indonesian government passed an emergency decree to step up the prosecution of terrorists. According to The Washington Post, the decree mandates that all terrorists will receive a life sentence or death by firing squad, and allows suspects to be held for up to six months for questioning, without being charged. Yes, Indonesia has finally come around to fighting terror, American-style.

The best alternative take appeared in an October 16 New York Times op-ed by Sidney Jones, the director of the Indonesian project of the International Crisis Group. According to Jones, post-Suharto Indonesia needs better governance, not increased security. "To give the army and police more powers in a country widely castigated for its corrupt legal system and weak political institutions," she wrote, "is to invite abuse."

At press time, the cable networks were still broadcasting round the clock coverage of the hunt for the Beltway sniper, speculating wildly about the mystery note from the Ponderosa steakhouse. Evidence of an Al Qaeda link had yet to materialize.

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