Indonesian Jihadism: Small Groups, Big Plans
Asia Report N°204
19 Apr 2011
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY AND RECOMMENDATIONS
Violent extremism in Indonesia increasingly is taking the form of small groups acting independently of large jihadi organisations. This is in part a response to effective law enforcement that has resulted in widespread arrests and structural weakening of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), Jama’ah Ansharut Tauhid (JAT) and other organisations accused of links to terrorism. But it is also the result of ideological shifts that favour “individual” over “organisational” jihad and low-cost, small-scale targeted killings over mass casualty attacks that inadvertently kill Muslims. The suicide bombing inside a police station mosque on 15 April 2011 and a spate of letter bombs delivered in Jakarta in mid-March are emblematic of the shift. The government needs urgently to develop prevention strategies to reduce the likelihood that more such groups will emerge.
Unlike the small group proponents, advocates of “organisational” jihad believe that nothing can be accomplished without a large organisation and a strong leader, but if the ultimate goal is an Islamic state, then it is imperative to build public support. Rather than engage in violence, groups like JI and JAT are focused for the moment on building up a mass base, by finding issues that resonate with their target audience. Increasingly this means a greater focus on local rather than foreign “enemies”, with officials who are seen as oppressors, particularly the police; Christians; and members of the Ahmadiyah sect topping the list. It also means a greater willingness than in the past to join coalitions with non-jihadi groups.
In some ways, the two strands of jihadism are complementary. The larger organisations can fund the religious outreach that attracts potential recruits for the small groups. They can also provide the translators and distributors for material downloaded from extremist websites in Arabic or English that buttress the small group approach. They can maintain plausible deniability for acts of violence while trying to rebuild their ranks, while at the same time providing the cover under which small groups emerge. The larger organisations have not abandoned jihad, only deferred it.
The report looks at detailed case studies of small violent groups that have emerged in Indonesia in 2009 and 2010 in Medan and Lampung, on Sumatra, and in Bandung and Klaten, on Java. All involved at least one former prisoner; three of the four had links to JAT but operated independently of JAT control. Three of the four also involved mosque-based study groups that evolved into hit squads, and all were committed to the idea of ightiyalat, secret assassinations. In none of them was poverty a significant driver of radicalisation.
Information about these groups is only available because their members were caught. This raises the question of how many similar small groups operating under police radar exist across Indonesia that will only come to light when one of their murderous attempts succeeds.
Prevention strategies that go beyond law enforcement are critical, and the new National Anti-Terrorism Agency (Badan Nasional Penanggulangan Terorisme, BNPT) has an important role to play in designing and testing them. All such strategies, however, must be based on well-grounded research and informed by serious study of what has and has not worked elsewhere.
To the National Anti-Terrorism Agency:
1. Start work immediately on designing prevention programs:
a) Hire a small research team to comb through the trial dossiers of all extremists arrested to date, making a database of mosques, schools and other institutions that have repeatedly hosted lectures, meetings and study groups involving individuals subsequently arrested for terrorism. From these, identify five or six communities for pilot prevention projects.
b) Hold a series of small brainstorming sessions, not with prominent religious leaders or politicians, but with Indonesian scholars working on radical movements and others who can generate ideas about possible programs. A series of focus group discussions in the target areas to assess awareness of the problem and how to address it would also be useful, as would talking to commercial marketing experts who have done market research in these communities to know what kinds of appeals work best.
c) Compile a summary of prevention programs that have been tried in other countries; those involved in the brainstorming sessions should read it and discuss what might be adapted to an Indonesian setting and how.
d) Compile examples of Indonesian communities that have rejected extremist preaching to understand how the protests developed and how decisions were made with a view toward encouraging similar stands in other areas.
2. Make videos of repentant teenagers (with identities disguised) who have been arrested for terrorism and who can talk on camera about the shame they have caused their families and where they went wrong. Interviews with family members, also with disguised identities, about problems caused by their children’s arrest would also be useful. These videos should be tested on teenage audiences before being screened more widely in the target areas.
3. Hold small, closed sessions with principals of state junior high and high schools in target areas to:
a) understand what guidance is given to teachers who supervise religious extracurricular programs and how that guidance might be improved to ensure these programs do not encourage extremism or advocate violence;
b) understand how these supervisors are chosen and how safeguards against extremism might be built into the selection process;
c) ensure that principals who are concerned that some of these programs do encourage support for violent extremism have a range of options available, including changing the supervisor or shutting down the activity; and
d) ensure that there are detailed records of any outside donors for extracurricular activities using school facilities.
4. Find ways to audit the funds collected by jihadi organisations for a variety of causes – disaster relief, alms for the poor, assistance to families of imprisoned mujahidin – and expose any irregularities or suspected abuse.
5. Ensure greater awareness of trends in jihadism and resulting changes in tactics and targets by:
a) hiring an Arabic linguist with an interest in ideological developments;
b) developing contacts with counterparts in the Middle East to understand new trends in jihadism that will likely find their way to Indonesia through translations; and
c) identifying jihadi revisionist tracts that might be useful to disseminate in the Indonesian jihadi community.
6. Share the results of the research in Recommendation 1, above, with the large social organisations like Muhammadiyah and Nahdlatul Ulama and provide funding for well-designed proposals that their respective youth and student groups could undertake with their members, aimed at preventing advocacy of violence in areas that have a history of extremist activity.
To the Ministry of Law and Human Rights:
7. Consider drafting a new regulation on conditional release that would ban anyone convicted of terrorism from speaking, hosting or being a resource person for religious study sessions (pengajian or taklim) at least for the duration of his or her probation.
8. Strengthen programs currently underway to improve training of prison personnel; monitoring and supervision of high-risk detainees; and post-release programs.
9. Give high priority to programs to reduce the unacceptable level of prison corruption, including through better inspections, better training, better auditing and merit-based rather than money-based appointments to internal prison positions.
Jakarta/Brussels, 19 April 2011