22 Desember, 2008

Military, police stage national counterterrorism drills

Security forces stormed airports, glitzy hotels, passenger ships and the Indonesia Stock Exchange on Sunday during a massive national counterterrorism exercise.

The drill, the biggest and final in a series of joint exercises begun Friday, involved nearly 7,000 military and police personnel and emergency response workers -- almost all dressed head to toe in black.

Sunday's drill was held in six areas across the country -- Jakarta, Denpasar, Semarang, Yogyakarta, Surabaya and the Strait of Malacca -- and involved simulated clashes with gunmen, attacks, hostage-takings and rescues.

The exercise came on the eve of Christmas, when churches become the rare target of assaults, and New Year celebrations.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono recently ordered the police and military to organize drills to demonstrate preparedness in the wake of last month's deadly attacks on Mumbai in India.

Heavily armed anti-terrorism police swarmed a five-star hotel in Jakarta where masked gunmen carried out a mock attack similar to those in Mumbai in which 172 people were killed.

A military helicopter hovered over the Borobudur Hotel as police slid down a rope to the roof before blasting through windows to rescue screaming hostages.

In another scene at a local airport, mock terrorists seized an airplane carrying the president, killing the pilot and dumping the body onto the tarmac. After a 90-minute standoff, security forces overpowered the militants, who were demanding a ransom.

Similar drills were held in Bali, where terrorist bombings in 2002 and 2005 killed more than 200 people, many of them foreign tourists.

Security forces also stormed a passenger ship in the Strait of Malacca, one of the world's busiest shipping lanes, in a bid to free hundreds of people seized in another mock raid.

In Semarang, Central Java, seven mock terrorists occupied a state power plant (PLN) building and took employees hostage, threatening to bomb the office should authorities reject their demand for the release of their accomplices. After negotiations reached a deadlock, anti-terrorism squads stormed the building, killing five terrorists and capturing two others. In this simulated attack, one hostage was killed.

A mock hostage rescue was among similar drills at three locations in Surabaya -- Juanda Airport, the Sheraton Hotel and the Shangri-La Hotel.

"The important thing we have to underline in this joint exercise is the coordination and cooperation between the police and the military," chief security minister Widodo Adisucipto said. "We will evaluate it to see what has to be improved."

The military said security forces took significant lessons from the recent terrorism attacks in Mumbai and would try their best to prevent any similar incidents in Indonesia.

It said the exercises also aimed to warn terrorists against targeting Indonesian cities and other locations, saying armed forces would be ready to take them on.

Indonesia was hit by a string of deadly suicide bombings targeting Westerners in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

However, experts say the risk of more large-scale attacks has diminished with the arrest of hundreds of suspects.(jktpst)

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