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New players, mixed roots in Indonesia's terrorist network

Publication Date : 11-10-2012


Wina, 23, says she goes to malls and public areas less frequently now. The bombing incidents have somewhat diluted her appetite for window shopping or meeting friends at cafés. “The terrorists are unpredictable and malls might be the next target,” said Wina, a secretary at a private company. But the crowds of mall rats do not seem to mind the hassle of bag inspections.

Indonesia has been rocked by bombings since 2000. In August 2000, a car bomb exploded outside the Philippine consulate in Jakarta that wounded the ambassador and killed two people.

Four months later, on Christmas Eve, a series of bombs hit a number of locations in Jakarta as well as Sukabumi in West Java, Mataram in West Nusa Tenggara, Pekanbaru in Riau and both Pematang Siantar and Medan in North Sumatra.

The Bali bombing, with 202 fatalities (including 88 Australians) and 200 more suffering injuries, shocked not only the nation but also the international community. Investigations concluded that Indonesians could not entirely blame al-Qaeda, the main culprit of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the US, often a source of inspiration for local bombings.

Further bombing incidents throughout the years have unearthed other players beyond the identified major terrorist networks. However, reported rifts in the networks have made it difficult to track down perpetrators. Disputes among others were caused by disagreements of valid targets.

The blasts in Jimbaran and Kuta, Bali, on Oct 1, 2005, killed 23 people and injured some 100. These areas are dense tourist strips that are frequented by locals, unlike the heavily foreign patrons of the first targets.

Solahuddin, the author of a book on terrorist ideologies, says some jihad doctrines allow violence and terror attempts. Some believe that women and children, and places of worship are permissible casualties in the name of jihad.

“The doctrines are totally different than classic fiqih [laws] that forbid killing women, children and destroying places of worship,” Solahuddin said. Many attempts to counter such violent beliefs have been unsuccessful. “These radical groups have their own doctrines, teachings and beliefs,” Solahuddin added.

Several terrorists have been traced to one similar local source of family ties and ideological inspiration: the Darul Islam / Tentara Islam Indonesia (DI/TII), led by SM Kartosuwirjo. It aimed to set up the Negara Islam Indonesia (NII, Indonesian Islamic Nation), an armed movement crushed in 1962. Soeharto’s rule of more than 30 years further clamped down on expressions of political Islam.

Later local movements deriving ideological inspiration from the DI have been identified mainly as Jamaah Islamiyah (JI) and Jamaah Ansharut Tauhid (JAT). The JI and JAT have claimed responsibility over major terrorist attacks such as the Bali bombings.

Yet a renown defector of JI, the Malaysian Nasir Abbas, has said the JI that he knew — the Al Jammah Al Islamiyah, an organisation dedicated to continue the struggle to set up an Indonesian Islamic state — never approved of violence against civilians; thus he described in his book how splinter groups of the organisation began following the 2000 Christmas bombings, and mainly after the 2002 Bali bombs.

However the strong appeal of the NII, or any similar notions, does not translate into individuals planning a violent coup. Jihad or holy war is recognised in various forms among all Muslims as an obligation, and rarely translated into engagement in violence against others.

Robi Sugara, a researcher at the Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University (UIN), said the terrorist network is now “dominated by those born between 1980 and 1990”. He added that they are uncontrollable, aggressive and display the conviction that violent jihad is their religious obligation.

They are the generation to follow the first who were trained in Afghanistan, including Bali bomber Imam Samudra, and were noted for bringing the violent jihad ideology to today’s Indonesia.

The second generation, he added, were the ones trained in Maluku during the communal conflict of 1999 to the early 2000, as well as in Poso in Central Sulawesi. Some gained training with the Abu Sayyaf group in Mindanao in the southern Philippines.

The third generation may not be even recognised by the earlier generations, Robi said, as they are loosely grouped and learnt to make explosives from the Internet, rather than senior terrorists.

While many of the first and second generation are now behind bars, Robi said “The third generation will pose a tough framework” for authorities, as they are less visible than prominent jihad figures but are active in their utilisation of social media.

A prominent lawyer for terrorist suspects disagrees. Mahendradatta, the leader of the Muslim Defenders’ Team, says the later suspects are amateurish and only seeking revenge.

In late August police shot dead two young suspects including Farhan Mujahidin, 19 following their attack on a police post in Surakarta. Mahendradatta said as a boy Farhan had witnessed the fatal shooting of his father, Sunarto, a terrorist suspect also from Surakarta.

“Farhan has been involved in terrorist attempts simply because he wanted revenge over his father’s death,” the lawyer said. The police said Farhan’s step father is Abu Umar, currently serving time for smuggling arms to the Philippines — thus the BNPT believes Farhan is of “blue blood” in the genealogy of terrorist suspects, instead of merely seeking revenge.

Mahendradatta says today’s terrorists are clumsy, desperate, have no clear ideological conviction though targets are the police and any party seen to oppose Islam. “There’s no new generation; the previous cells have been cut off,” he said.

Whatever their motives and backgrounds, the targets and strategies of terrorists have adjusted and developed over the past decade.

Arms have been used in addition to suicide bombers and car bombs. Despite the shock of the Bali bombings, the country’s porous borders coupled with weak security and widespread corruption, contributing to easily forged documents and smuggled weapons and bomb ingredients, still provide a haven for terrorists.

The Internet provides access to methods for making bombs. Pipes and books have been used to conceal explosive material — as evident in the case of the package received at the Jaringan Islam Liberal (Liberal Islamic Network) office last year.

The researcher Al Chaedar also added that kidnappings are another new method. Police claimed a local terrorist group was responsible for the 2006 kidnappings of several students in Ambon and Poso.

Appearances are also much less telling nowadays, Al Chaedar said. “The new generation of terrorists is even more dangerous. They now live around us, developing amicable relationships with people as they know terrorism is unacceptable to the public”.

among the latest suspects arrested in Depok, on the city’s outskirts, was a man known as a decent milk vendor in the neighbourhood.

Targets too have shifted and now include police, politicians and activists including Islamic liberals.

“Terrorists have come to the agreement that Indonesia’s government, including its police and politicians are thagut [oppressors who worship idols], because they oppose jihad and arrest or kill their brothers,” Al Chaedar said. Analysts also believe the motivation of revenge increased since the Bali bombers’ execution in November 2008.

In April 2011, a suicide bomber attacked a mosque at the Cirebon Police complex. Injured victims included the local police chief. In late August, Farhan and other suspects attacked a police post in Surakarta, killing a night duty officer.

While several arrested suspects in recent years have been traced to the earlier known groups of Jamaah Islamiyah (JI), Jammah Ansarut Tauhid (JAT) and the DI movement, others may just be people who are merely angry and disappointed with the current economic and political uncertainties, says researcher Solahuddin. They are organised into small groups with barely any relation with the earlier known networks. “It is these kinds of frustrated people that are sought by radical groups”, Solahuddin said.

The lawyer Mahendradatta says today’s perpetrators get satisfaction out of their deeds, following their disappointment in the piling of unresolved cases in corruption or injustice

He said even the imprisoned JAT leader, Abu Bakar Ba’asyir, has said terrorism is counter-productive.

“Terrorism only gives Islam a bad name,” Mahendradatta said. But such warnings go unheeded among those who are frustrated, and lured to promises of heaven through violence.


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