How Much Can We Learn From Past Behavior?
How Much Can We Learn From Past Behavior?
Indonesia's Police: The Problem of Deadly Force
Indonesia's Police: The Problem of Deadly Force
Op-Ed / Asia 7 minutes

How Much Can We Learn From Past Behavior?

Several questions come up repeatedly in relation to the Kuningan bomb: what was the likely role of Azhari (not Azahari as it is frequently written) and Noordin Mohamed Top? How are they linked to Jemaah Islamiyah (JI)? How do they persuade people to take part in an operation guaranteed to kill innocent civilians? What is the likelihood of another attack? And what measures should Indonesia put in place to try and prevent moreterrorist-related deaths?

Perhaps the best clue to the modus operandi of Azhari and Noordin lies in their respective roles in the Marriott bombing. There, Noordin seems to have been the strategist and Azhari the field commander. It was Azhari who took instructions from Noordin, not vice versa. The planning started in December 2002, eight months before the actual explosion, and was spurred by the fact that Tony Togar, a JI member in Medan, wanted to get rid of the explosives he had been storing in his house because he was worried about his own safety, given the post-Bali police crackdown.

Noordin and Azhari made use of several networks in putting the Marriott team together: the Johor branch (wakalah) of JI, which had close ties to JI members in Pekanbaru and Dumai; family connections; and what might be called the Ngruki-Darusyahada alumni association.

Noordin and Azhari both were active in Johor wakalah. They were closely involved in the Lukmanul Hakiem pesantren (Islamic boarding school—Ed) that the JI leadership in Johor had set up as a cadre recruiting center in the early 1990s. Noordin started teaching there in 1994, and Azhari became part of the religious study circle established there by Abdullah Sungkar, the JI founder, even earlier. Mohamed Rais and Moh. Ikhwan, two young men who later joined the Marriott team, both studied at Lukman al-Hakiem while Noordin was there.

Family ties were also important. When Tony Togar wanted to move the explosives out of his house, JI called up the brother of Heru Setiawan (a JI member from East Java who at the time was working in Semarang with Mustofa, the head of JI special forces). Heru's brother said the group could store the material at his house in Dumai.

But that was only one example of the family ties that bound the team together. The head of JI in Pekanbaru, who had been involved in the Christmas Eve 2000 bombings and was later drawn into the Marriott, was the father-in-law of Joni alias Idris, a Bali bomber who also helped out on the Marriott. Mohamed Rais was married to the sister of a JI member in Malaysia, and his father also got involved, ensuring that the team members who became fugitives after the bombing had access to subsistence funds. Each one of these family networks could be used to ensure a supply of safehouses and logistic support.

The school links provided yet another network. In March 2002, when Moh. Rais was forced to leave Malaysia after his brother-in-law got arrested for KMM activities, Noordin appears to have helped him open a business (a shock absorber repair shop) in Bukittinggi where Rais, according to court documents, stored about 40,000 Malaysian ringgit for JI activities.

The Ngruki connection was important, too. In January 2004, as the idea for an operation began to take place, it was Tony Togar, a Ngruki graduate, who went with Azhari and Noordin to approach Asmar Latin Sani, a former Ngruki classmate, about the idea of dying as a martyr—that is, becoming a suicide bomber. Idris was also a Ngruki graduate, class of 1993. The pesantren in Boyolali called Darusyahada comes up as another school whose alumni have been involved repeatedly in JI activities; many of its teachers are Ngruki products.

There are two other networks in Indonesia that Azhari and Noordin could probably draw on, even though they did not figure as prominently in the Marriott bombings: the Mindanao alumni and the veterans of Ambon and Poso. Anyone who fought in Ambon with the Laskar Mujahidin, anyone who fought in Poso with Laskar Jundullah, Mujahidin KOMPAK or a host of other groups (but generally not including Laskar Jihad) would be a possible recruit. Also, any Indonesian who received training in Mindanao in the period 1997-2003, whether or not he was a JI member, might be considered as plausible sources of support, refuge, or other forms of assistance by the two Malaysians.

We don't know for sure what role JI's central command or qiadah markaziyah, played in the Marriott operations, but there seems to have been some involvement of senior JI officials beyond Noordin and Azhari. In June 2003, for example, when the Marriott plot was well underway, Noordin and Azhari had a meeting with Abu Dujana and Basyir alias Qotada, men who were almost certainly part of the central command. Abu Dujana had been a teacher at Lukmanul Hakiem pesantren where he would have worked closely with Noordin.

Qotada was involved in the training of a new JI special forces unit in 2003 which was specifically designed to replenish the military expertise available to JI, particularly in explosives, that had been damaged by the arrests after the Bali bomb. From January to June 2003, at the same time Qotada was talking with Azhari and Noordin about their plans, he was involved in coordinating and training this unit, the objective of which was to build the capacity to wage jihad on America, and to target private banks, economic assets of foreigners, especially Americans; dens of inequity like discotheques and bars; and Indonesian police headquarters. It is not clear how the choice of targets enhanced capacity to wage jihad, but a special team was put together for "engineering"—in other words, bomb-making.

Fortunately, police were able to arrest some of the key figures involved in this effort, after surveillance of a Bank Central Asia branch in Jakarta was already underway.

In late August in Bandung, Qotada and Abu Dujana met again with the Marriott bombers, who by this time were fugitives. It is likely that the meeting included an evaluation of the Marriott operation, because JI has always been very careful to evaluate its own performance and learn from its mistakes.

This time, it's too soon to know the extent of JI involvement in the most recent Kuningan bombing, Azhari and Noordin are certainly members of JI, and in the Marriott case, they worked largely through the JI cell structure in Sumatra, with some participation of Java-based members.

But much has happened since the Marriott. JI has become weaker, its administrative structure, its finances, and its logistics all seriously damaged. Azhari and Noordin may not have been able to rely on that particular network in the same way they did before. More importantly, the split in JI between the pro-bombing and anti-bombing factions almost certainly widened, and Azhari and Noordin are likely to have become far more isolated from the JI "mainstream," if such a word can be applied to a terrorist organization. As Malaysians, the two men would have been closely linked to Hambali, and it was the Hambali-led group that were most inspired by the 1998 fatwa from Osama bin Laden urging attacks on America and its lackeys.

Many in JI did not agree that this kind of jihad should be waged on Indonesian soil. It was different with Ambon and Poso—those wars, in the view of most members of JI, were not only legitimate, they were obligatory for Muslims to join, to defend the lives of other Muslims. But many in JI thought that to target civilians, even kafir civilians, was religiously impermissible (haram) and in any case, not strategic, because it disrupted JI's longer term agenda. If opposition to the Hambali approach has in fact increased over the last year, Azhari and Noordin would have found it even more difficult to rely on the JI structure to the extent they did in the Marriott bombing. So who helped them? That's a question that investigators will have to find out.

Unfortunately, there is no shortage of suicide bombers in Indonesia. Many people used to think it was impossible for any of the many different cultures in Indonesia to give rise to such behavior. But by all accounts, some young men who have immersed themselves in religious study find the idea of becoming a martyr attractive because to them, it represents the ultimate act in the service of faith, and in attacking an enemy that cannot be confronted by ordinary means. The people who do this are not individuals in the depths of despair about their own failures or the meaninglessness of their lives. For them, this is a positive act, a route to glory.

The bahasa Indonesia website of Hamas, and the glory accorded on such sites to suicide bombers in the occupied territories and Chechnya, even after such appalling horrors as the Beslan massacre, have reportedly given inspiration to some impressionable Indonesians. ICG was told that young men radicalized in Poso and Ambon from seeing friends or family members killed were particularly susceptible to recruitment.

One other sobering thought. In the Marriott bombing, Azhari drove the car with the explosives, with Asmar Latin Sani, the suicide bomber, sitting beside him, until they were very close to the Marriott. Then he got out calmly as Asmar took over the wheel, got on the back of a waiting motorcycle, and was still nearby when the blast took place. If past pattern holds, he was likely to be close enough to the Australian embassy to be able to monitor his handiwork.

In Jakarta today, there is much talk about improving intelligence coordination, strengthening laws, and giving additional powers of arrest and detention to agencies other than the police. The first is obviously useful. The second may or may not be necessary; I think Indonesia has the legal tools it needs. The third, in the current climate, could be dangerous.

The real need is to see this as more than a security problem. It's a public policy problem, to determine how the resentment and anger and search for religious reward that drive young men to these acts can be channeled into more constructive pursuits.

Why and where has this jihadist ideology taken root? For this, we have to know more about who has already been recruited and how. Going after the perpetrators is essential, but the task is much bigger. This is not a problem that should be left to the security forces to solve.

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