The evolution of Indonesian terror
The evolution of Indonesian terror
By Jacob ZenThe ongoing trial of Umar Patek, the alleged mastermind of the 2002 Bali bombing in Indonesia, symbolizes the demise of one of the last-standing fighters from the 2000s generation of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) militants. Yet three incidents in March 2012 show that the threat of terrorism in Indonesia persists, albeit in a new and different form.
With a shortage of funding and fewer ties to al-Qaeda central than JI had in the 1990s and 2000s, terrorists in Indonesia now operate in smaller cells and carry out smaller-scale attacks. They are also more likely to become radicalized domestically, as opposed to the jihadi battlegrounds of the earlier generation of Islamic militants who were radicalized while abroad.
This distinction was apparent in recent incidents. On March 18, five terror suspects were captured making preparations for an attack on the La Vida Loca bar on the resort island of Bali. The second incident occurred on March 21 when a package bomb in Paris was delivered to the Indonesian Embassy, allegedly linked to a French national who had been on Indonesia's "most wanted" list since 2010. The third took place on March 30 when Indonesian police raided an alleged terrorist safe house on the outskirts of Jakarta, killing two suspects.
One of the most important differences between now and the 1990s and 2000s is that the links between terrorists in Indonesia and their traditional foreign funders, including al-Qaeda, are drying up. Despite Patek's denials during his interrogation, intelligence officials from the Philippines and Indonesia believe that Patek was captured in Abbottabad, Pakistan, as the hunt for Osama bin Laden neared its climax.
Patek allegedly intended to request funds to reinvigorate the faltering jihadi operations of Abu Sayyaf and JI in Southeast Asia. The risks he took to reach the former al-Qaeda chief, some analysts contend, show both groups' desperation for new funding. Significantly, the five terrorists arrested on March 18 in Bali were planning to conduct a series of bank robberies to finance their attacks on the tourist destination.
Similarly, on April 13, two terrorists who had carried out bank robberies in Medan, Sumatra, in 2010 to fund attacks were arrested in Bima, West Nusa Tenggara province. There is an increasing relationship not only between bank robberies and terrorism, but also other forms of organized crime such as drug trafficking.
More worrisome, perhaps, the new generation of terrorists in Indonesia are more likely to be homegrown - educated in terrorism and radicalized within Indonesia - than the previous generation of jihadis in JI.
Patek, currently on trial; Abu Bakar Bashir, JI's former spiritual head now serving a 15-year prison sentence for financing terrorist camps in Aceh; Azahari Husin, a terrorist killed in 2005 by counter-terrorism officials in East Java; Dulmatin, killed in 2010 by Detachment 88 in Jakarta; and Hambali, a 9/11 architect now held in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, were all Afghanistan jihadi veterans who brought their terror skills back to Indonesia.
In contrast, the main suspect in the recent attempted Indonesian Embassy bombing in France was a Muslim Frenchman who spent three years in Malaysia and Indonesia studying religion and became radicalized in Indonesia. He began following the Salafi-jihadi movement, which gained traction in Indonesia in the 1990s during the inter-religious clashes between Christians and Muslims in the Moluccas.
At that time, many Muslim fighters were sent by an offshoot of JI known as Laskar Jihad from Java to fight Christians in the Moluccas. While Laskar Jihad's original members in the 1990s were veterans of the Afghanistan jihad against the Soviet Union occupation, many terrorists today were radicalized during the jihad in the Moluccas and other domestic inter-religious conflicts in the 1990s.
Despite Indonesia's efforts to promote non-violence in its religious institutions, jihadis have infiltrated many Indonesian madrassas (seminaries). According to the report of the "Third Public Hearing of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States", 10% of the members of the Global Salafi Jihad are from Indonesia. Unlike in the Arab World, "Only the Indonesian group was almost exclusively educated in religious schools," the hearing noted.
As a case in point, in July 2011, the dean of the Umar bin Khatab boarding school in Bima, West Nusa Tenggara province, was arrested when several of the 27 homemade pipe bombs that he used to instruct his students in jihad went off accidentally, killing a school employee.
During a three-day standoff, his students, armed with machetes and swords, prevented police from investigating the school. One of the dean's students had previously been sentenced to 15 years in jail for killing a police officer with a sword. The dean was ultimately captured and sentenced to 17 years in prison in March 2012.
There are fears that jihadis in Indonesia may now also be hiding behind groups like the Islamic Defenders Front and Jemaah Ansharut Tauhid (JAT). Both groups advocate a violent form of Islam and the implementation of Sharia Law in Indonesia. The JAT was founded by JI spiritual leader Abu Bakar Bashir and has been called the "new camouflage of JI" by Ansyaad Mbai, the chief of Indonesia's National Counter-Terrorism Agency.
He noted that the JAT "has the same leader, Abu Bakar Bashir, and most of the key figures of JAT are also JI".
The third incident in March 2012 involved the capture of two suspected terrorists who were allegedly planning to carry out bank robberies to support their terrorist activities and had in their possession several jihad-related books. The duo thus represents the two current terrorist trends in Indonesia-criminal activities to fund terrorism and homegrown radicalization.
Detachment 88, Indonesia's premier anti-terrorism unit, has responded to the changes in terror tactics by becoming more nimble itself. It has also coordinated with the United States and Australia, whose citizens in Indonesia are still potential targets of attacks, as evidenced by the terrorist cell captured in Bali on March 18.
While the risk of large-scale international attention-grabbing attacks is lower than before, the real battle ahead lies in educating a new generation of Indonesians to resist the propaganda about religion and violent struggle being proffered by the old generation of charismatic Indonesian clerics and their next generation disciples.
Jacob Zenn is a graduate of Georgetown Law's Global Law Scholars program and was a State Department Critical Language Scholar in Indonesia in 2011. He writes about regional affairs and insurgent movement in Southeast Asia, Central Asia, and Nigeria. He can be contacted at Zopensource123@....
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