Next generation radicals in Indonesia
By Jacob Zenn
JAKARTA - Driven by strong exports and buoyant domestic markets, Indonesia is projected to be among the world's top 10 economies by 2025. While the future looks bright for Southeast Asia's largest economy, a growing tide of religious intolerance threatens to undermine those gains. Where officials have in the past attributed religious violence and terrorism to foreign influenced groups, now the threats to stability are more clearly homegrown.
In the late 1990s and 2000s Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) was the main threat in Indonesia. The radical group attacked foreign tourists in Bali in 2002 and 2005, the Australian embassy in Jakarta in 2004, the J W Marriott hotel in Jakarta in 2003 and 2009, and the Ritz
Carlton hotel in the capital city in 2009.
JI was largely considered a Malaysian import to Indonesia, with most of the extremist group's key members having fought in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union in the 1980s or in the 1990s with the Taliban again its domestic rival the Northern Alliance. Most of JI's key members are now either in prison or have been killed by Indonesia's elite counter-terrorism force, Detachment 88 (or Densus 88).
In November 2012, one of JI's Indonesian-born and bred members, the Poso native Upik Lawanga (aka Taufiq Buraga), was captured trying to cross from East Kalimantan, Indonesia to Sabah, Malaysia, on the island of Borneo. Lawanga was allegedly involved in the beheading of three Christian students in Poso, church bombings in nearby Palu in 2005, the two hotel bombings in Jakarta in 2009, and suicide bombings at a mosque in a police compound in Cirebon and a church in Solo in 2011.
In February 2012, another JI leader, Malaysian national Zilkifli bin Hir (aka Marwan), was killed in an air strike on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao while hiding out and training al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf members in nearby Sulu. In January 2011, Indonesian Umar Patek was captured in Abbottabad, Pakistan either en route to Afghanistan or perhaps to meet with Osama bin Laden to request funding for Southeast Asian militant groups.
Other Malaysian national JI leaders and bomb-making experts Azahari Husin and Noordin Top Muhammad were killed by Detachment 88 in Batu and Malang, Java, in 2005 and 2009 respectively. Some Indonesian scholars on religion as well as Indonesia's former president Abdurrahman Wahid have gone as far as to suggest that JI was a "Malaysian creation".
JI's two founders, Abu Bakar Bashir and Abdullah Sungkar, were both Indonesians who fled into exile in neighboring Malaysia in the mid-1980s after being released from prison under the Suharto regime. They both returned to Indonesia after Suharto's authoritarian government fell in 1998 and leveraged their previous grass roots networks to establish JI in Indonesia.
JI's attacks killed hundreds of foreigners as well as numerous Indonesians, but failed to change the country politically. If anything, the attacks turned the country against JI's terror tactics and support for the imposition of Sharia law. Nonetheless, Bashir was steadfast in his support for terrorism, or what he referred to as "jihad," which he described as "the highest deed in Islam" in an interview in 2005.
Bashir was arrested and imprisoned in 2011 for sponsoring a terrorist training camp in Aceh in a bid to form a group known as "al-Qaeda in the Veranda of Mecca" or "al-Qaeda in Aceh". According to Indonesian police, the cell was planning to use squads of suicide-bombers and gunmen to attack foreign embassies and Western targets similar to those carried out in Mumbai, India in 2008. The plot also allegedly aimed to assassinate Indonesian government officials, including President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
From prison, Bashir continues to advocate for radical action. In 2013, he released the second edition of his book Tadzkiroh (Warning and Advice). The 176-page volume argues that democracy is equivalent to apostasy and that Muslims have the obligation to follow Sharia law in all aspects of life, including the government system. He goes so far as to advocate that the wives of government officials divorce their husbands because they are infidels for following a secular government system.
Bashir also believes the United States is using the minority Ahmadiya sect to destroy Islam in Indonesia. The Islam-oriented Ahmadiya originated in the Indian subcontinent in the 1800s and is considered heretical by most orthodox Muslims. The movement has nonetheless had success in expanding to Indonesia, much to the dismay of those like Bashir.
Bashir also believes that the charges against him that sent him to prison were "engineered by America," although he admitted to sponsoring the terrorist camp in Aceh. In "Tadzkiroh 2", when he focuses on foreign policy he argues that the "infidel" US is the master of the Detachment 88 counter-terrorism unit and that Washington uses it to fight against Indonesian "mujihadeen" who want to live under Sharia law.
New groups, same views
A new trend in the post-JI era is that radical Islamic groups have become more localized. While Bashir is behind bars, the new groups have followed his example, though without the international connections of JI. One of the emerging groups is known as Mujahidin Indonesia Timor (MIT). It is known to be led by Santoso, who was a former commander in Jamaat Ansrul Tawheed (JAT), the successor to JI.
MIT was responsible for a series of attacks against local police in Sulawesi in late 2012. Like Bashir, the group views government officials as apostates who deserve to be killed. MIT is believed to have several hundred members in Sulawesi, with about 50 militants working directly under Santoso and others trained in Aceh in Bashir's upended terror camps.
The group is notorious for launching attacks against government targets after officials move to close down unsanctioned Islamic schools. MIT recently killed four mobile brigade policemen in Sulawesi after a Islamic girls school was shut down. Santoso claimed that the attack was done in the name of "Batalyon Abu Warda," which is his alias.
Santoso has also been connected to the Umar bin Khattab Islamic boarding school in Bima, West Nusa Tenggara, where in 2011 a teacher accidentally set off an explosion while making bombs. After the unintended explosion, Santoso is believed to have fled to Sulawesi.
Although Santoso got his militant start in Sulawesi and the Moluccas fighting in the Muslim-Christian battles seen towards the end of Suharto's 32 years in power, he is not known to have significant international backing or connections. That said, he does look abroad for extremist inspiration, including through the use of modern technology to spread threats and propaganda.
In October 2012, for instance, computer hackers posted a letter from Santoso on the East Kalimantan's government's website. In the letter Santoso adopted an Indonesian-style name of the former al-Qaeda in Iraq leader "Abu Mus'ab Al-Zarqawi Al-Indonesi" and said to Detachment 88, "You should not dare to shoot and arrest our unarmed members… If you are really men, then face us."
Some of MIT's members have also reportedly hacked into foreign exchange trading websites. This, analysts say, has been one the main ways the group raises money, in addition to robbing actual banks. Unlike JI, Santoso is not believed to receive money from al-Qaeda funding streams, especially since Patek was captured and bin Laden killed by US commandos.
Another emerging group is Harakah Sunni untuk Masyarakat Indonesia (HASMI - Sunni Movement for Indonesian Society). HASMI's leader, Abu Hanifa, was arrested in Central Java in 2012 while planning an attack on the US Embassy in the capital city, the Jakarta offices of US mining company Freeport-McMoran and the US Consulate in Surabaya in "retaliation" for the film Innocence of Muslims. The film was produced by an Egyptian resident of California and satirized the life of the Prophet Mohammed. HASMI members have also carried out attacks on Ahmadiya mosques, Christian churches, and perceived as "un-Islamic" institutions, including stores that sell alcohol.
A number of other groups based on the main island of Java have followed HASMI's violent lead. Officials fear the emerging connection between followers of Bashir, Abu Hanifa, and Santoso could lead to more terrorist strikes on international targets, in addition to attacks on Indonesian police, security officers and politicians. The plotters of an attack on the Jakarta-based Myanmar embassy on May 3, believed to be in retaliation for that country's abuse of minority Muslims, were part of Santoso's network, according to a police spokesman.
Some hope that democracy, including elections scheduled for 2014, will turn back the tide of extremism. Unlike under Suharto, where critical views were forbidden, Yudhoyono's elected government has not suppressed open debate or alternative perspectives on sensitive national issues. While mainstream Islamic scholars have denounced Bashir's pronouncements, it is notable that the imprisoned cleric's book is readily available in Indonesia.
Other experts have openly stated their opinions that majority Hindu areas of the country, such as Bali, and predominantly Christian regions such as Manado, Papua and Flores, might seek to secede if Sharia law was imposed for the entire country - a still touchy topic in Jakarta after East Timor (also known as Timor Leste) voted for independence in a 1999 referendum.
For Indonesia to consolidate its democratic and economic success story, political leaders will need to continue to fight intolerance through democratic openness rather than authoritarian suppression. While new extremist groups emerge, they have yet to significantly dent Indonesia's reputation as the world's leading "Muslim democracy." While a minority perpetuate religious hatred and violence, the vast majority of Indonesians have triumphed over intolerance through their embrace of democratic ways and ideals.
Jacob Zenn is an analyst of geopolitical trends across multiple regions and frequently writes for Terrorism Monitor. A fluent speaker of Bahasa Indonesia and former student of Universitas Negeri Malang, he carried out field research in Java and Sulawesi in May 2013. He can be reached at [email protected].
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