The Changing Face of Terrorism In Indonesia
The Changing Face of Terrorism In Indonesia
Indonesia's Police: The Problem of Deadly Force
Indonesia's Police: The Problem of Deadly Force
Op-Ed / Asia 3 minutes

The Changing Face of Terrorism In Indonesia

A series of recent terrorist attacks in Indonesia has seen mujahidin target Indonesians rather than Westerners. They have also demonstrated that local militants do not need the backing of al Qaeda or even Jemaah Islamiyah, the regional jihadist group, to wreak havoc.

There was no brand-name hotel, Western embassy, icon of American fast-food culture or popular tourist site near the crowded market in the largely Christian town of Tentena, where two bombs exploded on May 28 killing 21 Indonesian civilians. The attacks took place in an area -- the Poso district of Indonesia's Central Sulawesi province -- that was the scene of intense communal violence in 2000-01, on the fifth anniversary of a massacre of local Muslims by local Christians.

The bombings followed another terrorist attack two weeks earlier that also targeted Indonesians. On May 16, five police officers and their cook were shot in the head as they slept in a remote post on the island of Ceram in Maluku, another area that had previously seen intense communal fighting. The attack, on a post on the border between Christian- and Muslim-controlled villages, is the first known instance of multiple targeted assassinations by Indonesian jihadists.

Preliminary investigations suggest these attacks may be related. But whether they are or not, they show how a complex web of personal alliances among Indonesian mujahidin, born out of communal conflicts and strengthened by military training at home and abroad, are going to continue to cause problems for the foreseeable future. The Tentena and Ceram attacks may be the work of local groups working separately, or as part of a two-act plot designed to reignite communal conflicts, or even a three-act drama where the final attack is still to come.

Activists in Poso were quick to seize on the possibility that local officials involved in corruption had used mujahidin to bomb the market as a way of diverting attention from criminal investigations into their activities. In Ceram, one of those arrested early on was the nephew of a candidate for district head, raising questions about whether competition for local office was a possible factor there.

But it quickly became apparent in Ceram that something larger was afoot. A key figure, now under arrest, is a man named Dahlan, a West Javanese veteran of conflicts in Maluku, Poso and Mindanao in the southern Philippines. The veteran fighter first went to Maluku in 1999, after the communal conflict erupted there. He trained at a camp on Buru Island in which one of the instructors was Zulkarnaen, head of military operations for JI. The camp was funded by Kompak, the Muslim charity whose Solo office has financed many of the jihadist activities in Indonesia.

Dahlan moved on to Poso after the conflict there reached new heights with one of the worst massacres in Indonesia in recent years, the killing of some 180 Muslims by Christians at the Walisongo religious school on May 28, 2000. He joined a Kompak special-forces combat team, and was sent to Mindanao to purchase weapons and help escort mujahidin trainees back and forth. In 2001, he also became involved with a local group called Mujahidin Kayamanya, working with both them and JI to help plan attacks on Christian villages. In 2003, Dahlan married a woman from al Islam school in Lamongan, East Java, the school where three of the Bali bombers taught. He returned to Maluku in late April, shortly before the recent attacks.

While Dahlan is suspected of involvement in the Ceram assassinations, other members of Mujahidin Kayamanya may have been involved in the Tentena bombings. Hard evidence remains scanty and given the way these networks operate, the presence of individuals from the same organization in two separate incidents islands apart doesn't conclusively prove a single strategist was behind them. If the incidents were coordinated, the motive could be to stir up trouble in two tense areas, in order to either recruit new members for organizations whose ranks have been depleted by arrests or divert attention so that some of the jihadist leaders now being sought by police can move around the rest of the country more easily.

Worse still, it could be a three-act drama -- in which case there is one more attack to come. After the Ceram attack targeting police, the Indonesian government agency that has been the most dogged in hunting terrorists, and the Tentena attack targeting Christians, it's possible that the mujahidin might turn their attention to a Western target for a third attack, especially if an organization like Kompak is involved.

Whatever happens, the most worrying aspect of these recent attacks is that it shows that Indonesian terrorists can still continue their campaign without help. The network of contacts spawned by past communal conflicts means they don't need a command structure or an institutional base. Terrorism in Indonesia can be decentralized and wholly domestic -- and just as dangerous as ever.

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