Indonesia's Police: The Problem of Deadly Force
Indonesia's Police: The Problem of Deadly Force
Op-Ed / Asia 7 minutes

After Abu Dujana and Nuaim

Abu Dujana’s arrest is a major triumph for the police, but its significance should not be overstated. A wealth of new information should now emerge about Jemaah Islamiyah’s structure, financing, recruitment, leadership, plans and alliances with other organisations, making it more difficult than ever for the region’s largest jihadist organisation to operate clandestinely. But it does not mean the end of JI or of terrorism in Indonesia.

Abu Dujana and the JI organisation

Abu Dujana is a key figure in JI but all sources indicate that he reported to someone higher. Our best guess for the identity of the overall commander is Nuaim alias Abu Irsyad alias Syahroni alias Zuhroni, the Jakarta-born Afghan veteran in his early 40s who was head of JI’s Mantiqi II – the territorial command that covered most of Indonesia. Subur Sugiarto, one of the chief operatives for Bali II, said in his interrogation testimony that Abu Irsyad was the new amir and it makes sense: With the commands that covered Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines and Australia destroyed or in disarray, the head of the Indonesia division would effectively become the top of the administrative hierarchy.

Abu Dujana and Nu’aim were both members of the central command (markaziyah) and it is not clear who else is still active at that level. Zulkarnaen, JI’s military commander at the time of Bali I, may be one, but he seems to have disappeared from sight for the last several years. Noordin M. Top never held a position of authority, and in any case, broke away to form his own organisation around 2003. Dulmatin and Umar Patek, whose names are often mentioned as among the most-wanted, likewise were never senior officials and have operated outside the JI structure since they fled to Mindanao in 2003.

Since Bali II, JI has been quick to replace those detained or killed: since 2002, for example, the head of JI-East Java has been replaced at least four times.  But the ranks are not inexhaustible, and the age and level of experience are steadily going down. Looked at from the top down, there is no question that JI has weakened progressively over the last five years. That said, to understand its resiliency and adapability, it is important to look beyond the leaders to the ties that bind members to each other at the grassroots.

Kinship ties have been well-documented. Many members have older and younger siblings in the movement; some men marry sisters of their fellow mujahidin. One young JI activist just released from prison for sheltering Noordin, Lutfi Haedaroh alias Ubeid, has a younger brother in prison; his older brother runs a JI-linked publishing house. The al-Ghuroba cell in Karachi, Pakistan consisted almost entirely of the younger siblings of JI men from what was then the Malaysia-based Mantiqi I.

Educational ties are strong as well, especially alumni associations. The class of 1995 from al-Mukmin Pesantren in Ngruki produced the Marriott hotel bomber Asmar Latin Sani; Mohamed Rais, now in Cipinang Prison, who for a short time in 2000 ran JI’s Afghanistan office; and Salahuddin al-Ayubi, of the Atrium bombing, who was arrested in the April 2006 Wonosobo raid. The school ties start young: in east Semarang, JI members arrested for involvement in Bali II used to meet each other when they all picked their children up from the Nurul Iman elementary school.

One aspect that has received less attention is the business ties. In Semarang again, one cleaning service owned by a JI member provided employment for at least four others and perhaps more, and some of its profits were directed toward JI activities. Many members have been attracted to multi-level marketing of herbal products and other commodities, where a manager can recruit seven people as agents, each of whom recruits seven others, in a way that reinforces the social ties among the members of a particular pengajian and at the same time produces revenue for the group.

All this is to say that the leadership is important, but even if the top ten people were to be taken into custody, the mass base will endure, just as Darul Islam (DI) survived the arrest of almost its entire top leadership in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Abu Dujana and Noordin Top

Much of the reporting about Abu Dujana, including from the police, has suggested that he played a major role in the bombings in Jakarta and Bali since 2002.  But it would be odd if this were  true. The  attempted assassination of the Philippines ambassador in Jakarta, the 2000 Christmas Eve bombings, the 2001 Atrium bomb and Bali I were JI operations, carried out largely by men associated with Hambali, Mukhlas, and the JI structure that until late 2001 had been based in Malaysia at the Lukmanul Hakiem pesantren. The Marriott is a question mark: Noordin and Azhari met Abu Dujana at a hotel in Bandar Lampung about two months before the bombing, and then again immediately afterwards. It has never been clear whether Abu Dujana endorsed the bombing, actively assisted with logistics, advised against it, or simply agreed to deal with the aftermath, in terms of arranging protection for the perpetrators. We will have to wait for Abu Dujana’s trial to know for sure. But it would be very surprising to learn that he had any role in the Australian embassy or Bali II attacks, apart from helping Noordin hide. All of the evidence to date suggests, in fact, that he was opposed to Noordin’s al-Qaeda style tactics of launching attacks against Western targets on Indonesian soil, especially when so many Indonesian Muslims died in the process.

This raises two questions. Does Abu Dujana’s arrest then have any impact on  the threat posed by Noordin? And if Abu Dujana did not agree with Noordin-style attacks, what was his military unit doing and where does his arrest leave JI’s military capacity?  Abu Dujana may well know Noordin’s whereabouts; we speculated in an earlier report that Noordin could be under JI’s protection in return for agreeing to lie low and refrain from undertaking attacks. Noordin’s capacity had in any case been severely weakened by the death of Azhari in November 2005 and two other members of his inner circle in Wonosobo in April 2006.  But two young men who worked with him closely on the lead-up to the Australian embassy bombing were released from prison in March 2007, and one key operative from Bali II, Reno alias Tedy, is still at large. If Noordin’s chief protector has been taken into custody, the Malaysian or those around him may decide they have nothing to lose from another attack, even if they do not have the personnel or equipment to undertake a Bali-style bombing.  Noordin’s arrest and capture would reduce but not eliminate that threat:  we know from the Bali II testimonies that some younger JI members have grown frustrated with the cautiousness and inaction of their seniors, and the emergence of other splinter groups is not impossible.

“Mainstream” JI from the beginning has been more focused on local enemies.  The post-Malino jihad in Poso was a JI project that Abu Dujana was deeply involved in. His arrest, coming soon after police operations in January removed many of the key local perpetrators, will help maintain the peace there, but could increase determination on the part of remaining JI members to focus on the police themselves as a target.

Police Project?

In the aftermath of Abu Dujana’s arrest, several commentators have suggested that the police are deliberately stringing out the arrests of known terrorists rather than arresting them all at once, so they can keep the counter-terrorism funds flowing. It is an uninformed and unfair accusation, but those who make it should think about what they are saying.

It is true that the police and many others have the names of dozens of other JI members across the country. They could easily arrest them all if they had an Internal Security Act like Singapore and Malaysia. But post-Soeharto Indonesia, wisely, has opted to avoid large-scale preventive detention in the interests of strengthening democracy. In my view, that is absolutely the right choice, and pressures for an ISA should be resisted at all costs. But it means that the police will only make arrests when they believe they have enough evidence to have a reasonable chance of securing a conviction in court, and that operations to capture suspected perpetrators require lengthy preparations.

Indonesia’s decision to try suspected terrorists in public trials and release those convicted when they have served their sentences is also absolutely the right thing to do, in the interests of upholding the rule of law. But it means that many people committed to an ideology that promotes violence are now coming out of prison and may return to their old networks. This makes what happens in prison all the more important. Are inmates going to be rehabilitated, or become more radical after four or five years in prison? Will the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights ever make a serious attempt to understand, let alone stop, the corruption in the prison system that makes all regulations meaningless, and that allows communication between some of the most dangerous prisoners and their followers outside?

We should applaud the good police work that led to the arrest of Abu Dujana and others. But terrorist networks are not easily eradicated, and if Indonesians want those damaging travel advisories to be lifted and the country’s image as a tourist paradise restored, other parts of the government will have to share the burden.

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