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Report 228 / Asia

How Indonesian Extremists Regroup

Almost ten years after the 2002 Bali bombing, Indonesian extremists are weak and divided but still finding partners for new operations.

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Executive Summary

Almost ten years after the Bali bombing that brought terrorism in Indonesia to international attention, the country’s violent extremists are weak and divided but still active. In the face of strong police pressure, they are finding ways to regroup on the run, in prison and through internet forums, military training camps and arranged marriages. In many cases, the same individuals keep reappearing, using old networks to build new alliances. The fact that they have been singularly inept in their operations in recent years does not mean that the danger of attacks is over. There are signs that at least some are learning lessons from past failures and becoming more sophisticated in recruitment and fundraising. Better understanding of how extremists regroup could lead to more effective counter-radicalisa­tion programs.

The biggest blow to terrorist capacity in recent years was the break-up in early 2010 of a training camp in Aceh, on the northern tip of Sumatra, where an alliance of almost all major jihadi groups in the country had planned to establish a base. Many senior leaders were captured or killed and a wealth of information discovered that led to the arrest, trial and imprisonment of some 200 individuals. Instead of cowing the jihadis into submission, however, police operations inspired a new wave of activity motivated by the desire for revenge, with new partnerships and training centres established and new plans set in motion. Activity has been particularly noticeable in Medan, North Sumatra; Poso, Central Sulawesi; Solo, Central Java; Bima, West Nusa Tenggara; and parts of East Kalimantan. Underground activity has been directly or indirectly assisted by radical preachers whose meetings provide inspiration and meeting grounds for jihadis and sympathisers. Some pro-Sharia (Islamic law) advocacy groups that do not use violence themselves but whose teachings are in line with jihadi views play a similar role.

Almost all the plots since 2010, and there have been more than a dozen, are connected directly or indirectly to the fugitives from Aceh. The ease with which wanted men can move around, communicate with friends in prison, share information and skills, disseminate ideology, purchase arms, conduct training and recruit new followers shows how much basic preventive work still needs to be done.

Many of the jihadi groups operating today have links to Jamaah Anshorut Tauhid (JAT), a group set up by radical cleric Abu Bakar Ba’asyir in 2008 that has replaced Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) as the country’s largest and most active jihadi organisation. JI, responsible for the 2002 Bali attack, is now the object of scorn from more militant groups, accused of abandoning jihad. It continues to exert an influence through its schools, however, and many disaffected former members remain active through other organisations. Several smaller groups have emerged as well, often composed of inexperienced young amateurs who lack the skills, discipline and strategic vision of the generation that trained on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border between 1985 and 1994 and produced the Bali bombers.

Materials posted on radical websites suggest that the more educated extremists have learned important lessons from the Aceh experience, especially in terms of awareness of the extent to which their ranks have been infiltrated by the “enemy” – the Indonesian state. They conclude that they must be much more careful about vetting members, protecting communications and guarding secrets. If jihadis were to heed these lessons, the task of the police could become much harder.

There has been less introspection within the government about why recruitment continues to take place or why there are so many more terrorist plots – even if most have been poorly conceived. Indonesia’s counter-terrorism successes have all been due to good law enforcement. The police have become skilled at identifying and arresting those responsible for violent crimes and interdicting plots as long as there is evidence, such as illegal possession of guns or explosives, on which to act. But virtually no effective programs are in place to address the environment in which jihadi ideology continues to flourish.

Jakarta/Brussels, 16 July 2012

Briefing 139 / Asia

Indonesia: Tensions Over Aceh’s Flag

A dispute over a flag in Aceh is testing the limits of autonomy, irritating Indonesia’s central government, heightening ethnic tensions, reviving a campaign for the division of the province and raising fears of violence as the 2014 national elections approach.
 

I. Overview

The decision of the Aceh provincial government to adopt the banner of the former rebel Free Aceh Movement (Gerakan Aceh Merdeka, GAM) as its official provincial flag is testing the limits of autonomy, irritating Jakarta, heightening ethnic and political tensions, reviving a campaign for the division of Aceh and raising fears of violence as a national election approaches in 2014.

On 25 March 2013, the provincial legislature adopted a regulation (qanun) making the GAM’s old banner the provincial flag. It was immediately signed by Governor Zaini Abdullah. The governor and deputy governor are members of Partai Aceh, the political party set up by former rebel leaders in 2008 that also controls the legislature.

The central government, seeing the flag as a separatist symbol and thus in violation of national law, immediately raised objections and asked for changes. Partai Aceh leaders, seeing the flag as a potent tool for mass mobilisation in 2014, have refused, arguing that it cannot be a separatist symbol if GAM explicitly recognised Indonesian sovereignty as part of the Helsinki peace agreement in 2005 that ended a nearly 30-year insurgency. Partai Aceh believes that if it remains firm, Jakarta will eventually concede, as it did in 2012 over an election dispute.

Indonesian President Yudhoyono’s government is torn. On the one hand, it does not want a fight with the GAM leaders; the 2005 peace agreement is the most important achievement of a president who, in his final term, is very much concerned about his legacy. It also is unwilling to provoke GAM too far, fearful that it will return to conflict, a fear many in Aceh discount as unwarranted but one that Partai Aceh has exploited with relish. On the other hand, it does not want to be branded as anti-nationalist as the 2014 election looms, especially as some in the security forces remain convinced that GAM has not given up the goal of independence and is using democratic means to pursue it. The president and his advisers also know that if they allow the GAM flag to fly, it will have repercussions in Papua, where dozens of pro-independence activists remain jailed for flying the “Morning Star” flag of the independence movement.

GAM leaders see little to lose by standing their ground. The flag is a hugely emotive symbol, and defying Jakarta is generally a winning stance locally. Some individual members of parliament see it as a way of regaining waning popularity for failing to deliver anything substantive to their constituencies. Also, Partai Aceh took a controversial decision to partner with Gerindra, the party of former army General Prabowo Subianto, for the 2014 election. Leaders like Muzakir Manaf, deputy governor and former commander of GAM’s armed wing, may want to use the flag issue to show they have not compromised their principles by allying with a man whose human rights record is often questioned.

Within Aceh, adoption of the GAM flag has sparked protests from non-Acehnese ethnic groups in the central highlands and south west. The GAM heartland has always been along the east coast; to highlanders like the Gayo, the flag thus represents the domination of the coastal Acehnese at their expense. The issue has revived a dormant campaign for the division of Aceh into three by the creation of two new provinces, Aceh Leuser Antara (ALA) for the central highlands and Aceh Barat Selatan (ABAS) for the south west. If GAM does not back down on the flag, support for that campaign by the intelligence services is likely to rise, and with it, the probability of increased ethnic tensions.

The options for breaking the stalemate seem to be as follows: the government concedes; GAM concedes, making slight changes to the flag by adding or removing an element; GAM agrees to limits on how or where the flag can be displayed; or the dispute is taken to the Supreme Court, thereby delaying any resolution.

In the meantime, the power of the GAM machinery in Aceh continues to grow.

Jakarta /Brussels, 7 May 2013