JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesian Islamists hailed Osama bin Laden as a martyr on Wednesday, illustrating sympathy for the al Qaeda leader killed by U.S. forces among Southeast Asian militant groups, one of which predicted a major reprisal attack.
Indonesia and the Philippines, both home to militants with links to al Qaeda, have stepped up security after the killing of bin Laden on Monday, with Jakarta increasing police presence ahead of an annual meeting of regional leaders at the weekend.
“If it is true that was him, it was bin Laden who won, he has had that victory he dreamt of, that is to be shot dead as a martyr by his enemy,” said Son Hadi, spokesman for Jema’ah Ansharut Tauhid, a legal Islamist group founded by firebrand cleric Abu Bakar Bashir.
“The impact of his demise is that Osama will be appreciated with prayers, support and some hateful comments against the U.S.,” he said. “I am certain that the U.S. will experience a major disaster.”
Links between al Qaeda and domestic militant groups such as Jemaah Islamiah and Abu Sayyaf have weakened in recent years following military crackdowns, and analysts say a quick reprisal attack is unlikely.
“I think the major impact would be in Indonesia,” said Sidney Jones, of the International Crisis Group in Jakarta. “I think if groups are bent on trying to mount a revenge attack, it will take some time to put even a simple plot together.”
Al Qaeda is believed to have supported some of the Jemaah Islamiah’s attacks, such as the 2002 Bali bombings that killed more than 200 people.
Recent militancy in Indonesia, such as a spate of parcel bombs in the capital, appears more aimed at domestic targets such as police or those promoting pluralism.
Indonesia’s Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) held a meeting on Wednesday to show gratitude for the “services” of “martyr” bin Laden at its headquarters in Jakarta.
A poster on a wall near the venue said bin Laden’s killing by the U.S. military was cowardly and infidels had celebrated with a party over his death.
“May in future be born other Osamas who are even braver to fight for Islam,” the poster said.
“Our blood is boiling because we want to crush the American soldiers to bits,” said a speaker at the event.
The group, whose members are known for wielding bamboo canes and “moral policing” by smashing up bars in Jakarta, has never been linked to any major attack or wider political aims. It seems to operate with impunity from officials, worried of appearing un-Islamic in the world’s most populous Muslim country.
At one point during the gathering, a speaker shouted “America” and hundreds of people, most of them men wearing white skull caps, cried back: “Destroy!”
Risk consultancy group Control Risks said gatherings by sympathetic Islamist groups could risk descending into violence.
Muslim leaders said controversies over the U.S. operation, from the killing of the unarmed bin Laden to his burial at sea, may cause resentment.
Others said the risk was present but unchanged in a region attracting growing investment interest from foreign firms for its strong economic growth and surging capital markets.
“Although bin Laden continues to inspire violence as he did in life, his death is unlikely to affect the overall terrorist threat in Indonesia,” said Jakarta-based consultants Concord.
An Indonesian militant, Umar Patek, who also has links to the Abu Sayyaf group in the Philippines, was arrested this year in the same town where bin Laden was found, a security source said.
“We think he was up to something bigger,” the security source told Reuters. “Patek was not in Pakistan by accident. There was a network that was prepared for his arrival there.”
In Manila, security has also been tightened, with checkpoints on main streets, and police cars parked outside the U.S. embassy. Guards frisked people and opened bags at malls.
“While there is no report of an immediate threat to metropolitan Manila, the government has nonetheless deemed it prudent up upgrade security,” said national security adviser Cesar Garcia.
Additional reporting by Manny Mogato in MANILA; Writing by Neil Chatterjee; Editing by Robert Birsel