Asking the Right Questions to Fight Terror
Asking the Right Questions to Fight Terror
Indonesia's Police: The Problem of Deadly Force
Indonesia's Police: The Problem of Deadly Force
Op-Ed / Asia 6 minutes

Asking the Right Questions to Fight Terror

2005 brought a sobering reminder of the lethal power of terrorism: 6 Indonesians shot as they slept in Ceram, Maluku on May 16; 22 Indonesians killed by a bomb in a crowded Saturday morning market in Tentena, Central Sulawesi on May 28; 14 Indonesians and 6 foreigners killed by suicide bombers in Bali on 1 October. Other attacks on civilians in Maluku and Poso during the year pushed the death toll higher, although many of these were locally inspired and harder to link to any concept of global jihad.

The year also brought welcome indications of the increasing efficacy of the Indonesian police to track down suspects and break up terrorist networks. The Nov. 9 killing of "master bomber" Dr Azhari Husin and the arrest of other members of the suicide brigade that he and Noordin Mohamad Top helped create were the most spectacular examples of this, but there were many others.

In the aftermath of the Ceram attack, for example, police were not only able to arrest three of the perpetrators in very short order. They also were able to piece together the elements of a mujahidin-preman alliance that has been responsible acts of lethal violence going back to 2001.

But 2005 was not just about action and reaction. It was also about the evolution of terrorist organizations and shifts in public perceptions.

It became increasingly clear during the year that Jamaah Islamiyah, the largest of Indonesia's jihadist organizations but by no means the only one, was divided. A small faction, inspired by but not directed by al-Qaeda, seeks to continue to wage a jihad against the U.S. and its allies - especially Australia - on Indonesian soil.

The ideological justification for that jihad might be summarized as follows:

  • The U.S. and its allies are leading a Christian-Zionist conspiracy to destroy Islam
  • Non-Muslims are kafir (infidels) and therefore by definition enemies of Islam; a defensive jihad entails attacks on kafirs either to pre-empt attacks by them or to take revenge for losses already incurred.
  • Muslim rulers who ally with the U.S. and its allies are thought, by definition acting against Islam and therefore for all practical purposes kafir. (This would be the ideological basis for attacks on Indonesian officials and institutions, which have thus far been rare.)
  • All Americans and civilians of countries allied with the U.S. are enemies because they pay taxes that finance the war machine against Muslims or elect representatives and officials who are spearheading that effort. The division between civilians and military is irrelevant.
  • Kafir deaths are justified as an appropriate response to the millions of Muslims killed, injured, or rendered homeless by the U.S. and its lackeys in Afghanistan, Palestine, Iraq, Chechnya, Bosnia, the Sudan, and elsewhere.
  • The killing of innocent Muslims in order to attain victory over kafirs is acceptable collateral damage.

This view was associated most closely with the Indonesians associated with the Lukman al-Hakiem pesantren in Malaysia, like Hambali, Muchlas, Dulmatin, Abu Dujana and Imam Samudra, as well as Noordin and Azhari. It never had strong support within the rest of JI, and it appears to be losing ground.

The other faction of JI is more committed to dakwah as a means of building a mass base and working toward the establishment an Islamic state, more along the lines of the original Darul Islam movement from which JI emerged. It opposes the bombers not only because it regards their interpretation of jihad as wrong, but also because it believes they have engaged in activities that squandered resources and weakened the organization. This faction may be more "benign" in the short term, but its members are still committed to acquiring the military capacity to take on enemies - defined as including those who actively try to prevent the gradual expansion of their influence. Once young recruits develop skills in bomb-making and precision shooting, even if for different aims than Noordin and company, they are going to be a problem.

But that's just JI. One of the things 2005 taught us was how complex mujahidin networks are. The year saw the trials of Rois and others involved in the Kuningan bombing. They weren't JI, they were from a splinter of Darul Islam known as Ring Banten - but they had trained with JI in Poso and worked with Noordin and Azhari on the embassy attack.

The attack in Ceram involved three men from Poso linked to Mujahidin Kayamanya; a Darul Islam member from Riau; a KOMPAK-affiliated man from Tasikmalaya; and a few local thugs. None was JI. But the men from Poso had trained in Ambon, and the Darul Islam and KOMPAK men had fought in Poso.

More than ever before, we began to understand how important those conflict areas were in producing new recruits, new linkages, and a new generation of jihadist leaders with real combat experience. After all, the Afghan alumni are now aging; the first Indonesians began training on the Afghan border in 1985, and the skills of many are rusty. The Maluku-Poso generation is fresher, battle-hardened, and probably more militant. We are not talking about large numbers of men, but neither are they just a handful of hardliners concentrated in Solo. Their network, as the Ceram attack shows, is nationwide.

The year also brought home the realization to many here that suicide bombing has taken root here as a standard terrorist technique. In Bali II, for the first time ever, we had three young men used in a single attack. It's not enough to disseminate teachings showing that suicide is forbidden under Islamic law, because those who promote the practice do not consider it suicide. More important is understanding who they are, what their backgrounds are, how they get recruited, what arguments are used, and what criteria the recruiters are looking for. We now have ten men who have killed themselves while engaged in terrorist attacks, or in one case in an accident while planning one (two in Bali I, one in the Makassar bombs of December 2002; one in the Marriott, one in Kuningan, one accidentally in Poso, and three in Bali II; and one who blew himself up rather than be captured by police at the time that Azhari was killed). We also have detainees, such as Wiwid, arrested in November, who reportedly was being trained as a suicide bomber, men in prison known to have helped recruit candidate bombers. This is a substantial data set that needs an in-depth analysis so programs to prevent new recruitment can be developed.

If 2005 brought change and mutation within terrorist networks, it also brought a real shift in public perceptions - especially after Bali II. It was the videotape found of the suicide bombers that seems to have turned the tide, led Vice President Jusuf Kalla to take the important step of inviting ulama to his home to watch and discuss it and led the ulama themselves to decide to take action. Why only now? It was not the first time that jihadist videotapes had been found, but it was the first time that such compelling evidence had been so quickly shown on national television. It was also the first time anyone had seen very young Indonesians talk about martyrdom, knowing that by the time they were watching, the men were already dead.

Since May 2000 when the first JI bombing attack took place in Medan until late 2005, all counter-terror efforts had focused on intelligence and law enforcement. With Bali II, it looked as though the Indonesian government was going to put more effort in understanding why this phenomenon was happening, not just react to the violence.

The international climate during 2005 made counter-terror efforts in Indonesia more difficult. Daily images of suicide attacks in Iraq, revelations about the use of white phosphorous in Falluja, atrocities in Abu Ghraib and other U.S.-controlled detention centers, "ghost" prisons, and other horrors unquestionably helped the jihadist cause. But with few exceptions, anger over international events alone does not produce terrorists. If it did, then Indonesia really would be a hotbed. Local factors are always more important, and if in 1999-2000, Ambon and Poso were the driving forces, we need to understand what took their place in 2005.

Likewise, poverty is not the root cause. Yes, two of the three suicide bombers came from very poor families, and neither Iqbal in Bali I, nor Heri Golun, in the Kuningan attack, were well-off. But people who join mujahidin networks come from across the socioeconomic spectrum. If poverty drives young men into terrorism, how do we explain why Heri Golun, and not his friends allowed himself to become a "bridegroom" as suicide bombers are called? And why have we seen so few terrorists emerge from the underclass of Jakarta?

2005 did not bring answers. But by year's end, more and more people were beginning to ask the right questions.

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