Indonesia drills to the roots of its terror problem
Authorities leveraging stiff new anti-terror provisions to make arrests and unravel Islamic State's ties to local jihadi networks and radical clerics
Armed with new powers under the revised Anti-Terrorism Law – and President Joko Widodo’s instructions to drill “down to the roots” — Indonesia’s Detachment 88 counterterrorism unit has arrested scores of suspected militants in raids across the country over the past few weeks.
Police have also rounded up non-violent sympathizers whose support, now subject to legal action under the revised law, has allowed Islamic State-linked terror cells to flourish in as many as 18 of the country’s 34 provinces by official count.
National police chief General Tito Kanarvian, a former Detachment 88 commander and frequent critic of previous holes in Indonesia’s terrorism-related laws, says the new intensity in counterterrorism operations will be maintained as police seek to unravel the Islamic State-linked Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD) and other jihadist networks.
“Everyone, including bomb-makers, ideologues, instigators, perpetrators, supporters, fund-raisers and individuals who conceal the activities of suspected terrorists must be arrested,” he said in a July 16 speech at the Police Mobile Brigade (Brimob) headquarters in Jakarta.
The crackdown may have regional implications. Singapore Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen warned earlier this month that the island republic is facing its highest terrorism threat level since the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States and the 2002 Bali nightclub bombings.
In neighboring Malaysia, security forces last week arrested three Indonesians and four Malaysians after one of the detainees pledged loyalty to Islamic State on social media and threatened to assassinate the Malaysian king and prime minister for failing to introduce Sharia law.
Indonesia’s Parliament moved swiftly to revise 2003 anti-terror legislation following last May’s bombing of three churches, an apartment building and police headquarters in Surabaya city, and subsequent terrorist attacks in Jakarta and Sumatra which altogether left 37 people dead, including 21 assailants.
About 20 militants have been killed and 180 suspects detained in the latest raids, which may also be aimed at removing any potential threats to the 2018 Asian Games, which begin in Jakarta and the South Sumatra province capital of Palembang on August 18.
Most of those detained are allegedly part of JAD, previously led by radical cleric Aman Abdurrahman, who was sentenced to death last month for the January 2016 bomb and gun attack in central Jakarta that killed four civilians and all four attackers.
Earlier this week, the Attorney General’s Office initiated proceedings in the South Jakarta District Court to have JAD declared a banned organization under an unamended section of the Anti-Terrorism Law.
Courts now appear more willing to hand down tougher sentences in response to a public outcry over the Surabaya bombings and a previous riot by scores of terrorist suspects at the Brimob detention center in south Jakarta.
Authorities came close to losing control of the facility during the 36-hour stand-off, in which inmates brutally murdered six police hostages and seized a massive cache of automatic weapons and ammunition from an adjoining armory.
The revised law extends the period of detention for anyone suspected of planning a terrorist attack from seven days to a maximum of 30 days; it also extends definitive detention from an all-inclusive 180 days to a maximum of 510 days – 300 days for investigation and 210 days for prosecution, including two extensions that must be approved by the courts.
Other provisions provide a maximum of seven years’ imprisonment for anyone who is either a member or recruits a person to become a member of what a court deems to be a terrorist organization. Leaders and organizers of such groups are subject to 12 years’ imprisonment.
Another important new provision prescribes a five-year jail term for anyone who incites an individual or a group, either through “speech, behavior, action or text,” to commit an action of terrorist violence.
The military’s role at this stage is defined in the law as “by any means to provide reinforcement to the police,” making it clear that Detachment 81 retains the lead role in counter-terrorism efforts unless confronted with a hijack or major siege situation.
The parliamentary committee reviewing the legislation agreed that rather than characterizing terrorism as a national threat, which would open the door to wider military involvement, it should instead be defined as “any action that has political and ideological motives or has the intention of destabilizing security.”
What is less clear is how the government is dealing with the clerics at the forefront of the growing wave of Islamic conservatism that is laying the ideological groundwork for extremist groups – even on the state’s own doorstep.
Only now are authorities paying attention to a 2017 study by the Association for the Development of Pesantrens and Society (PPPM) and the House of Nationalism, which showed that more than 40 of every 100 mosques under the state’s jurisdiction had been infiltrated by radical groups.
In Jakarta alone, sermons delivered in 57% of the 37 mosques located within state-owned enterprise compounds contained what was judged to be a high level of radical content. A similar result was found among 34% of mosques inside 35 ministry compounds and 29% of those in 28 other state institutions.
The study claimed that 73% of the sermons either taught hatred, or otherwise looked down on other religions, minorities and female leaders. According to one researcher, “those infected with radicalism were actively preaching values contradictory to religion, tolerance and the Constitution.”
Only since Surabaya, where whole families — including young children – carried out the suicide attacks, has the government woken up to the realization of just how far radical teachings have penetrated educational and religious institutions and other corners of Indonesian society.
With next April’s simultaneous legislative and presidential elections on the horizon, the president has ordered a stricter supervision of neighborhood mosques, which played a significant role in the mass mobilization that brought down former Jakarta governor Basuki “Ahok” Purnama last year.
Primordial tactics were not apparent during the recent gubernatorial, municipal and district elections held across 18 of the country’s 34 provinces, but Widodo is clearly not taking any chances that the opposition will attempt to use religion as a weapon on the national stage.
The president is working through the Indonesian Council of Mosques (DMI), which is headed by outgoing Vice President Jusuf Kalla and includes National Intelligence Agency director Budi Gunawan as one of its board of experts, and Ma’ruf Amin, chairman of the Indonesian Council of Ulema (MUI) and chief adviser to the mass Muslim organization Nahdlatul Ulama.
Amin’s thinking appears to have undergone a dramatic reversal since he served as former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s religious adviser during a lengthy period when the MUI issued a string of controversial edicts against secularism, pluralism and liberalism and added its voice to the inflammatory 2008 fatwa that banned and fueled bloody attacks on the Ahmadiyah minority Muslim sect.