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Oversight Needed to Make Police Accountable
Oversight Needed to Make Police Accountable
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

Op-Ed / Asia

Oversight Needed to Make Police Accountable

Originally published in The Jakarta Globe

Indonesia urgently needs a competent civilian body that can police the police and show that there are tangible consequences to refusal to enforce the law or in some cases, actively violate it.

Those with the authority to hold the police accountable, including the president, seem to lack the political will to do so; civil society groups appalled by police behavior have so far been unsuccessful in pressing for change. If Indonesian democracy is going to move forward, it is up to these groups to make a concerted effort to press the president and House of Representatives to bring a civilian oversight body into being.

The standoff with former chief detective Susno Duadji is a case in point. On April 24, West Java Police, together with a political party militia linked to a former justice minister, prevented prosecutors from taking Susno from his luxury house to prison after he lost all appeals against a bribery conviction. Susno was once head of the West Java command, one of the largest regional police units in Indonesia, and many officers there still owe their careers to him. It was clearly more important for top officers to protect the culture of patronage than to enforce the law.

This is not the first time the police have braved public scorn to protect one of their own. Last year, police blocked the anti-corruption commission from investigating the alleged corruption of Djoko Susilo, an active general who once led the lucrative traffic division. He is currently on trial after public uproar, presidential intervention and the discovery of a number of mansions under the names of his multiple wives.

Polls show high distrust of the police. Kompas newspaper last year found that 72.9 percent of respondents thought police would not touch the rich or powerful. In 2011, a survey by human rights group Imparsial revealed that 74.8 percent of those polled associated the police with corruption.

Why are the Indonesian police so tone-deaf to public opinion instead of working to build public trust?

Crisis Group analyzed this problem last year in a report titled The Deadly Cost of Poor Policing. One answer is that police see the post-1999 reforms in terms of structure, not institutional culture. The public may see reform in terms of increased competency, honesty and humanity. Those inside the institution are more focused on sustaining the new privileges, opportunities and powers that reform has brought about.

The 1999 divorce from the armed forces gave police authority over internal security after decades of playing junior partner to the army. But no thought was given to how this newly empowered force would be supervised. The 2002 police law gave it a direct reporting line to the president rather than placing it under a ministry and created a National Police Commission that ended up largely toothless because it can only provide advice to the president, rather than having powers to investigate, subpoena or censure. Since then,  attempts, including a 2007 draft of  the national security bill, to put police under the Home Affairs or Justice Ministry have hit the wall of entrenched police opposition that parliamentarians seem loathe to challenge.

Immune from external supervision that could hold wrongdoers accountable, the police can continue to distribute the increasing spoils of the reform without disruption. A reasonable livelihood is guaranteed as long as members are loyal to the internal norms. In the absence of credible performance-based reviews and an incentive structure that rewards professionalism and punishes incompetence, officers find that their promotions, educational opportunities and access to additional funds depend on relationships inside the force, especially with direct superiors. Deference trumps competence and initiative every time.

This does not mean that civil society should stop complaining about police shortcomings. Public pressure can make a difference. In October 2012, the police in Lampung failed to stop a deadly eruption of inter-ethnic violence when they should have anticipated trouble. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was slow to respond but in the face of public anger, the Lampung Police chief was forced to apologize and saw his scheduled promotion canceled.  Last month, when the Yogyakarta Police failed to protect murder suspects from being executed by soldiers in their cell, Yudhoyono again faced pressure to act, and the Yogyakarta Police chief was replaced. In both cases, the police denied that public uproar had sparked the decisions but events hinted otherwise.

Accountability must be institutionalized, however. It is insufficient to hope that media coverage and public advocacy will force a president to act or a police force effectively to control its own behavior. Indonesia must revisit the idea of a civilian oversight commission with real clout. This will require a new law, and public pressure could help bring it about. It may be the only way to ensure that reform means professionalism rather than patronage.