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Indonesia Backgrounder: How The Jemaah Islamiyah Terrorist Network Operates
Indonesia Backgrounder: How The Jemaah Islamiyah Terrorist Network Operates
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Report 43 / Asia

Indonesia Backgrounder: How The Jemaah Islamiyah Terrorist Network Operates

As the Indonesian-led investigation proceeds, the Bali attack on 12 October 2002 looks more and more like the work of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI). But what exactly is Jemaah Islamiyah and how does it operate?

Executive Summary

As the Indonesian-led investigation proceeds, the Bali attack on 12 October 2002 looks more and more like the work of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI). But what exactly is Jemaah Islamiyah and how does it operate? It is one thing to describe, as many have by now, a network of Islamic radicals extending across Southeast Asia, led by Indonesian nationals, with a loose structure characterised by four territorial divisions known as mantiqis that cover peninsular Malaysia and Singapore; Java; Mindanao, Sabah, and Sulawesi; and Australia and Papua respectively.

It is another to get a feel for how people are drawn into the network, what characteristics they share, what motivates them, and what resources they can draw on.

ICG examined earlier bombings in Indonesia linked to JI to try to answer some of these questions. There was no shortage of cases: JI has been linked to dozens of deadly attacks across Indonesia, the Philippines, and Malaysia from 1999 to the present. ICG looked in particular, however, at the Christmas Eve bombings of December 2000, in part because they covered so much territory: more than 30 bombs were delivered to churches or priests in eleven Indonesian cities across six provinces, all wired to explode around the same time. If we could understand who the foot soldiers were from one end of the country to the other, perhaps we could get a better sense of JI as an organisation.

The report, therefore, takes the Christmas Eve bombings in Medan, North Sumatra; Bandung and Ciamis, West Java; and Mataram, Lombok, in Nusa Tenggara Barat Province as a starting point. Using trial documents, police information, and extensive interviews, it examines the network linked to JI in each area. Research for this report was conducted over a two-month period by a team consisting of ICG staff and consultants.

Several findings emerge:

  • JI does appear to operate through cells but with a rather loosely organised and somewhat ad hoc structure. The top strategists appear to be protégés of Abdullah Sungkar, the co-founder with Abu Bakar Ba’asyir, of Pondok Ngruki, a pesantren (religious boarding school) in Central Java, mostly Indonesian nationals living in Malaysia, and veterans of the anti-Soviet resistance or, more frequently, the post-Soviet period in Afghanistan. A trusted second tier, who share many of those characteristics, appear to be assigned as field coordinators, responsible for delivering money and explosives and for choosing a local subordinate who can effectively act as team leader of the foot soldiers.

The bottom rung, the people who drive the cars, survey targets, deliver the bombs, and most often risk arrest, physical injury, or death, are selected shortly before the attack is scheduled. They are mostly young men from pesantrens (religious boarding schools) or Islamic high schools. The schools that provide the recruits are often led by religious teachers with ties to the Darul Islam rebellions of the 1950s or to Pondok Ngruki.

  • Until the Bali attack, the motivation for bombings appears to have been revenge for massacres of Muslims by Christians in Indonesia –Maluku, North Maluku, and Poso (Central Sulawesi) where communal conflict erupted in 1999 and 2000. With a few exceptions, such as the attack on the residence of the Philippine ambassador in Jakarta in August 2000, the targets were mostly churches and priests. Recruitment of foot soldiers was often preceded by discussions about Maluku and Poso or the showing of videos about the killings taking place there. Those conflicts not only served to give concrete meaning to the concept of jihad, a key element of JI’s ideology, but also provided easily accessible places where recruits could gain practical combat experience.

The U.S.-led war on terror now appears to have replaced Maluku and Poso as the main object of JI’s wrath, especially as those conflicts have waned, and the targeting in Bali of Westerners, rather than Indonesian Christians, may be indicative of that shift.

  • Abu Bakar Ba’asyir, now under arrest in a police hospital in Jakarta, is the formal head of Jemaah Islamiyah, but a deep rift has emerged between him and the JI leadership in Malaysia, who find him insufficiently radical. Ba’asyir undoubtedly knows far more than he has been willing to divulge about JI operations, but he is unlikely to have been the mastermind of JI attacks.
     
  • A curious link appears in the Medan Christmas Eve bombing between the Acehnese close to JI and Indonesian military intelligence, because both are bitterly opposed to the Acehnese rebel movement, Gerakan Aceh Merdeka or GAM. This link needs to be explored more fully: it does not necessarily mean that military intelligence was working with JI, but it does raise a question about the extent to which it knew or could have found out more about JI than it has acknowledged.

This is a background report, containing more in the nature of conclusions than familiar ICG recommendations. But there are three courses of action which the Indonesian government authorities should, in the light of our findings, certainly now pursue:

  • Reopen investigations into earlier bombings, with international assistance if possible, as to an extent is being done, but as a top priority and with a new investigation strategy involving systematic pooling of all information from across the country and review of cases where “confessions” were alleged to have been extracted under torture.
     
  • Strengthen intelligence capacity and coordination, but through a focus on the Indonesian police, rather than on the National Intelligence Agency (Badan Intelijen Nasional) or the army.
     
  • Address corruption more seriously in the police, army, and immigration service, with particular attention to the trade in arms and explosives.

Jakarta/Brussels, 11 December 2002

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