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Special Report
Last Updated: 02/15/2006
Indonesia's Move against Terrorism
Dr. Pankaj Kumar Jha

Jemaah Islamiyah (or Al Jamaa’ah Al Islamiyah - Islamic Group) is a radical Islamic network active in Australia and southeast Asia. An Al-Qaida linked group that has been blamed for a series of bloody bombings in Indonesia since 2000, JI’s bombings have included two attacks on Bali (the more recent one being on October 1, 2005) that together killed 222 people, many of them foreigners. JI also orchestrated a blast in the Poso in Sulawesi on December 31, 2005. Although the group’s founding has been dated to January 1, 1993, with Muslim cleric Abdullah Sungakar credited as its founder, the genesis of the JI can be traced back much earlier, to the Darul Islam rebellion in Indonesia in the 1950s and the establishment of a religious boarding school, the Pondok Al Mukmin (later called Pondok Ngruki) in Solo, Central Java in 1971 by Abu Baker Bashir.(1) In fact, most of the blasts in Indonesia are thought to be the handiwork of students of Pondok Ngruki. According to the general guide of the JI struggle, there are three basic objectives: the Daulah Islamiyah or Islamic state as the stepping stone to the restoration of the global Islamic caliphate; the process of preparing for the Daulah Islamiyah through a persistent and patient molding of the individual, the family and the group; and the prominence of military training and armed struggle (Jihad Musallah). The JI is not a centralized organization but rather a loose network of individuals and autonomous cells united by these principles. It has been able to operate throughout the Malay archipelago and in Australia. Given the size of the JI (about 3000 members ) and the spread of radical teachings, however, there remains a fear that radical violence from JI or similar networks and organizations will continue to be a serious security threat to Southeast Asia.

The Indonesian vice president Jusuf Kalla has stated regarding Indonesia’s fight against terrorism that the police were fighting on the physical front, while the ulema (Muslim clerics) were battling on the ideological front. Accordingly, Indonesia has devised a two-pronged strategy to counter the threat of terrorism and made serious attempts in this regard. The first prong was evident in the November 9,2005 killing by Indonesian anti-terrorism police of Malaysian Azahari bin Husin, a senior JI leader. The act was welcomed in Asia and the West because it was considered a serious attempt on the part of Indonesia’s cooperation in the war on terrorism and it prompted the United States to restore military ties that were severed in 1999 after the East Timor carnage (though a few military observers feel the real reason had been Indonesia’s willingness to purchase Russian aircrafts and seek Russian help to restore its defence industry). Prior to the killing of Azahari, in October 2005, Indonesia and the US inked an agreement to develop their capacity for cooperation in the “war on terror,” covering law enforcement, intelligence and agency cooperation.

But that was only the first prong of Indonesia’s strategy. It has been the perception of the Indonesian government that the police-led war against terror had to be carried out in conjunction with efforts by Muslim leaders to counter the false Islamic teachings being spread by the terrorists - this counteraction of false Muslim teachings has been the second prong. The feeling among the government officials is that as long as false teachings went unchallenged, terrorists would be able to recruit new members to replace those killed or captured by the police. The government agencies have praised Muslim clerics for their willingness to join the government-led war against terrorism and established an anti-terror task force composed of Muslim leaders to counter militant ideas promoted by terrorist groups responsible for bombings in the country. The new “task force against terrorism,” as the group of mainstream religious leaders has been dubbed, includes individual Muslim scholars as well as members of Indonesia’s two largest Islamic organisations: the Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah - which have a combined membership of 70 million people - and also representatives of Indonesia Ulema Council (MUI), the country’s highest religious body. Nahdatul Ulama (NU) means “Awakening of the Ulema.” NU was founded in 1926 by Javanese Muslim religious teachers who aimed to unify Muslims against the secular appeals of nationalism and communism. They also desired to preserve more traditional Sufi-derived forms of Islam against the modernity attempts of the reformist Muhammadiyah.

Many ulema have condemned terrorist attacks in Indonesia in the name of jihad, saying the terrorists have misinterpreted the Koranic verses on holy war. The religious elite in Indonesia, which is the world’s largest Muslim country, has issued a fatwa (edict) against jihadi terrorism. The fatwa revolves around the interpretation of “jihad” (holy war). To counter misinterpretation, the task force has announced plans to publish pamphlets, monitor books and publications that promote wrong interpretations of Islam, and talk to the young and impressionable students that crowd the country’s pesantrens - private Islamic schools. In order to support the endeavors of Indonesia, Australia and Philippines have shown interest in deepening police and intelligence links. So an all-out effort has been projected on both fronts and the dividends are expected to be visible in the long run.

These persistent efforts, however, still face several obstacles. Although JI, which is thought to be an organisation whose goal is the creation of an Islamic state across Southeast Asia, has been fingered as a terrorist group in Australia, it is not banned in Indonesia. which is because Sushilo Yudhoyono(2) heads a coalition government supported by parties like Golkar (which has several hardcore Islamists as members) and so complications arise with regard to unilateral decision for enacting anti- terror laws. The two anti-terrorism laws that were initiated by Indonesia in October 2003 to counter terrorist threats are Perpu 1/2002 and Perpu 2/2002. Perpu 1/2002 was a revised version of the draft anti-terrorism bill. The regulation defined the various categories of terrorist acts, gave broader powers to the security agencies, and allowed intelligence reports to be used as legal evidence. The regulation also provided that an act of terrorism or planning or assisting in an act of terrorism could be punishable by death. Sec.46 allowed for its retrospective application if this was authorized by another Perpu or law. That other law was Perpu 2/2002 which authorized this retrospective application with specific reference to the Bali bombing. The DPR (House of Representatives) formally approved both presidential regulations in March 2003. But now the need has arisen for much stronger legislation for tracking of funds and the role of Islamic teachers in investigating the causes of the spread of JI.

Indonesian security officials face the daunting task of apprehending the remaining JI militants. Many have grown more independent or moved to the Philippines to regroup, recruit and share skills because of the government’s initiative against JI. On the same day that Azhari was killed, another senior member of the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) terrorist network, Noordin Mohammad Top, escaped authorities elsewhere on Java. Moving against the remaining JI leaders will test Indonesia’s new anti-terror capabilities, including a revived village-level network of informants and newly set up military anti-terror units, as well as the regional governments’ ability to cooperate as militants find safe havens in places like Mindanao, the Philippines. The escape of Umar al-Faruq, Al-Qaida’s point man in Southeast Asia, from Bagram Airbase, a US military compound north of Kabul in Afghanistan has multiplied problems for Indonesia. It will soon be seen how the coordinated actions of government and clerics trickle down to the majority-Muslim population. Though the sizeable Muslim population of Indonesia follow moderate form of Islam, it has a history of Islamic militancy and the problem for the country’s decision makers is how to combat the menace without offending or even infringing on the rights of the majority. As Indonesia has the largest Muslim population, so the countermeasures with regard to terrorism would be closely monitored by both the west and the fanatic Islamists.

The challenge is not to be underestimated. JI has slowly penetrated Indonesian civil society structure and now has a greater capability to stage bigger attacks with new approaches at every level of their operation (from grooming in pesantrans to talent spotting and indoctrinating young minds). Indonesian security forces have found that some radical groups like Laskar Mujahidin and Laskar Jundullah have even played an active role in bringing JI influence to local regions of Maluku and Poso to fight against infidels (Christians), and attacks on those populations would mean hurting the US in Indonesia. Also, the US occupation of Iraq is having a profound impact on the radicalized and politicized Muslims of the country and the extremist groups have started exploiting those sentiments, including those of moderate Muslims, to create and launch new militant organizations. A strategic defeat for the U.S in Iraq in the coming years would embolden the Asian terrorist and extremist groups even further.

The strategy to fight terrorism in Indonesia, therefore, could be seen as three-fold: first, counter-terrorism legislation is the need of the hour as it would empower the security forces to effectively dismantle the terrorist propaganda, recruitment, fund raising, procurement and other support activity. Second, a greater dialogue is needed among the constituents of society to counter political and religious violence. Finally, there is a need to decimate the roots of terrorism while simultaneously resolving the issues which lead to protracted struggle and religious conflicts.


(1) Abdullah Sungkar (b. 1937) and Abu Bakar Bashir, a militant cleric co-founded Pondok Ngruki in 1973. Sungkar died of natural causes in November 1999, while in Indonesia. Sungkar as operations commander and Bashir as spiritual head, the two were able to indoctrinate young Indonesians and Malaysians who shared their vision and objectives. Around 1991, Abdullah Sungkar and other senior "Afghan alumni" formalized the structure of JI and outlined this in a small book entitled Pedoman Umum Perjuangan al-Jamaah al-Islamiya (General Guidelines for the Jemaah Islamiyah Struggle).Abu Baker Bashir was accused in connection with a number of bomb attacks blamed on JI - the Bali bombings, the JW Marriott hotel bombings in 2003 and a series of church attacks in 2000. He was even accused of planning the assassination of Megawati Sukarnoputri, Indonesia's former president. Born in 1938, in East Java, Abu Bakar Ba'asyir has spent decades teaching Islam, and become influential among radical Muslims in South East Asia. In addition to running the Solo Muslim School in Java, he also sat on the executive of the Mujahideen Council, which was formed in Yogyakarta in 2000 as an umbrella group for people wanting to turn Indonesia into an Islamic country. From 1978 to 1982 Sungakar and Bashir were jailed by Suharto, then President of Indonesia, for trying to start an Islamic militia called Komando Jihad. Soon after their release, they were convicted again for subversive activity but they hastily fled to exile in Malaysia until after Suharto’s downfall in 1998.

(2) A former security minister and former general , Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was the candidate of three parties: Democratic Party (PD), Indonesian Unity Union Party (PKPI), and Moon & Star Party (PBB)for June 2004 presidential elections. His vice-presidential candidate was Jusuf Kalla, a well-known businessman and a member of Golkar party. His party won significant support in the legislative election, despite having little organisation. Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was appointed Mines and Energy Minister in the government of President Abdurrahman Wahid in 2000. He was soon promoted to the key position of Minister for Security and Political Affairs. In 2001 Wahid, who was facing impeachment, asked Yudhoyono to declare a state of emergency to shore up his position against the Parliament. Yudhoyono refused to accept this, and Wahid dismissed him. Yudhoyono was almost immediately re-appointed to his post by the new President, Megawati Sukarnoputri. After the October 2002 Bali bombing, he oversaw the hunt for and arrest of those responsible, and gained a reputation both in Indonesia and abroad as one of the few Indonesian politicians serious about the war on terrorism. His speech during the one year anniversary of the Bali's attack (in which many Australians were killed) was praised by the Australian media and public. In March 2004 he resigned, reportedly after a falling-out with Megawati and her husband. The timing of his resignation was widely seen as linked to his decision to run for president.


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