Noordin's Dangerous Liaisons
Sidney Jones, Tempo (Indonesia) |
9 Aug 2009
In the wake of the hotel bombings on 17 July, many Indonesians still seem to believe that Noordin is an agent of the Malaysian government working to destabilize Indonesia. The myth feeds into anti-Malaysian sentiment, with the bombings coming in the wake of the Ambalat dispute and the Manuhara soap opera.
But it’s a dangerous myth, because it absolves Indonesians of responsibility, both for the problem and the solution, and it blinds those who hold it from understanding that the root is an ideology that transcends national boundaries. Noordin may be the most dangerous terrorist operating in Indonesia today, but even if he is caught this time, it will not be the end of terrorism here—especially if he has managed to re-establish international links.
Noordin is no longer JI, and the hotel bombings were not carried out by the JI organization. Instead, he leads a small splinter group that models itself, in terms of ideology, targets, and propaganda, after Al Qaeda. The question is whether he only imitates it or whether he has some structural affi liation.
Noordin and Mantiqi I
Noordin joined JI in 1998 at a time when Mantiqi I, the regional division covering Singapore and Malaysia, was at its height. It was also just after Osama bin Laden had issued his declaration that it was obligatory for all Muslims to wage war on Americans and their allies wherever and however they could. Under the leadership of fi rst Hambali (now detained in Guantanamo) and then Mukhlas (executed in 2008) Mantiqi I was the part of JI most committed to the global jihad. Its members were Singaporean, Malaysian and Indonesian, under Indonesian leadership.
No one should think that Noordin corrupted the minds of Indonesian exiles in Johor; it was the other way around. Hambali, Noordin’s mentor, had direct links to Al Qaeda; it was he who arranged the special explosives training of
Azhari, Fajar Taslim—just sentenced to 18 years for his role in the Palembang group—and others in Afghanistan in 1999 and 2000. It was also Hambali who set up the Al Ghuraba cell in Karachi, Pakistan from 1999-2003; it was composed
of Indonesians and Malaysians, and was in close touch with a similar group of Thai students. Several Al Ghuraba members trained with Lashkar at-Tayyba (LET), the Pakistani group responsible for the Mumbai attack.
Members of Mantiqi I like Hambali, Mukhlas and Noordin were always more imbued with the Al Qaeda view of the world than their counterparts in Indonesia, who were more focused on the confl icts in Ambon and Poso. They were also more focused on creating an Islamic state in the region—daulah islamiyah nusantara—unlike some of their Javabased friends who were convinced that an Islamic state in Indonesia had to come first.
Statement of Responsibility for Bali II
In his statement claiming responsibility for the 2005 Bali II bombing, Noordin called himself “Leader of Al Qaeda for the Malay Archipelago”, suggesting a regional brief. At the time, there were indications that the Noordin-Azhari team was in indirect communication with the JI fugitives in Mindanao—Indonesians Umar Patek and Dulmatin, and a Malaysian named Marwan—via Kompak contacts who were going back and forth between Indonesia and the Philippines.
An Indonesian who worked with Azhari in 2005 said that Noordin and Azhari were hoping to get funds from Malaysia: Azhari told him there were always donors among his welloff friends there, and he may have maintained contact with them. There also may have been contact between Noordin and the fi ve Singaporean JI members, including Mas Selamat Kastari, who fl ed to Indonesia in late 2001 via Malaysia and Thailand. (Recent media reports suggest that Hendrawan alias Husaini, arrested last June, was approached by Noordin for money.) If we look at Noordin’s networks in 2005, they could plausibly have covered Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines, perhaps with some leftover contacts from Thailand across the border with Kelantan.
But if Noordin was calling himself “Al Qaeda for the Malay Archipelago” in 2005, why would a blog posting in his name four years later refer to “Al Qaeda-Indonesia”? We still do not know if the blog posting that appeared on http://mediaislam-bushro.blogspot.com is genuine, but if, for the sake of argument, it is, there are a couple of possible explanations. It may be that Noordin has become so restricted in his movements that it simply is not possible to reach beyond Indonesia or it may be that other men are serving as Al Qaeda representatives elsewhere in the region.
The Other ‘Al Qaeda for Southeast Asia’
Between April and August 2008, a series of blog postings about the “jihad” in southern Thailand appeared on several blog sites (among them http://pintusyurgadipattani.blogspot.com/ ) in the name of Khattab Media Publicationand were signed by Abu Ubaidah (Hafi zahullah), “Exile and Fighter for Pattani Darussalam, First General of the Mujahidin Council for the Al Qaeda Organization, Southeast Asia branch.” Other members included Abu Ukkasyah Al-A’rabi as head of the council; Imam Waqqas as deputy; and Abu Abdillah as “second general”. From the language used, the postings seemed to be the work of a Malaysian resident in Thailand, but after August 2008, the postings suddenly stopped. It was never clear if there was a real Organization, and if there was, if there was any link to Noordin. One possibility is that the group in Thailand and Malaysia adopted the name of Al Qaeda, as Noordin did, because they agreed with the ideological thrust, without necessarily having any mandate from anyone in Al Qaeda central.
It is possible, but there is absolutely no information to confirm it, that Noordin and a few other Southeast Asians have been inducted as members of Al Qaeda and that there is more direct contact than we have assumed thus far. One unanswered question is about the identity of an Algerian living in Jakarta named Jafar who in early 2008 accompanied two senior JI members to Malaysia and gave them tickets to Damascus. The two JI men were arrested; Jafar disappeared. There were suspicions at the time that he might have been affiliated to AQIM, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, but no one knows for sure.
The Funding Question
Answers to the extent of Noordin’s links to Al Qaeda may come when the sources of funding for the July 17 bombings are uncovered. If the funding proves to be local—from robberies, for example—the chances are higher that Noordin is merely talking big about his Al Qaeda connection. If it turns out that he received funding from abroad, however, the implications are more serious. It would be the fi rst time since the 2003 Marriott bombing that an attack had received foreign fi nancing, and Al Qaeda would be a likely source. (In 2003, Hambali arranged funding that was sent from Pakistan to Thailand and then carried into Indonesia in cash by a Malaysian courier.) Depending on where the money came from, it could mean that connections with Pakistan, severed since the August 2003 arrest of Hambali and the breakup of the Al Ghuraba cell in Karachi, had been re-established.
That could open up a range of possibilities, all of them bad: that Al Qaeda central was paying more attention to Southeast Asia now, after a long period where its attention was focused more on Europe, North Africa and South Asia; that there are new, hitherto undetected channels between Pakistan-Afghanistan and Southeast Asia; and that even if Noordin is arrested, his Al Qaeda contacts might seek out other partners in Indonesia.
All this remains speculative. The investigation into the Marriott and Ritz-Carlton bombings is still in its early stages, and we do not know where it will lead. Noordin may well turn out to have been working with local recruits, locally funded, in an operation where he was just a little luckier than his last attempt, the bombing-by-proxy in Bukittinggi in December 2007. If he’s playing on a larger stage, however, it could be a sign that there is more to come.
Sidney Jones, Senior Adviser, International Crisis Group, Jakarta.