Indonesia Backgrounder: Jihad in Central Sulawesi
Indonesia Backgrounder: Jihad in Central Sulawesi
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Indonesia's Police: The Problem of Deadly Force
Indonesia's Police: The Problem of Deadly Force
Report / Asia 4 minutes

Indonesia Backgrounder: Jihad in Central Sulawesi

Recent violence in Poso (Central Sulawesi) suggests a need to revise assessments about the nature and gravity of the terrorist threat in Indonesia. While the shorter term prospects are somewhat encouraging, there is an under appreciated longer term security risk.

Executive Summary

Recent violence in Poso (Central Sulawesi) suggests a need to revise assessments about the nature and gravity of the terrorist threat in Indonesia. While the shorter term prospects are somewhat encouraging, there is an under appreciated longer term security risk.

In October 2003, masked gunmen attacked Christian villagers in the Morowali and Poso districts of Central Sulawesi, killing thirteen. The attacks took many outside the area by surprise. In December 2001, after three years of bitter sectarian conflict in which hundreds of Muslims and Christians had been killed, leaders of the warring parties had signed a peace agreement, the Malino Accord, which produced a dramatic decline in communal clashes. However, systematic, one-sided violence – bombings and “mysterious killings” by unidentified assailants, with overwhelmingly non-Muslim victims – continued. The October 2003 attacks thus continued a well-established pattern.

The difference was that with the heightened attention to terrorism in Indonesia and the wealth of information available to the police from captured Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) members about activities in Poso, security authorities moved quickly. Many of the eighteen people arrested as of January 2004 appear to have had some contact with JI through involvement in a militia called Mujahidin KOMPAK, an organisation whose leaders were sometimes drawn from JI, but which remained institutionally distinct.

This report explores how Mujahidin KOMPAK was created, how it came to Poso, and how it cooperated and competed with JI. It concludes that both organisations aimed to build the capacity of local groups to wage jihad without outside assistance. Since almost all those arrested for the October violence are local, they may have succeeded. (One suspect killed by police is believed to have been from Java and an alumnus of Pondok Ngruki, the religious school in Central Java from which many JI bombers have come.)

The two organisations had very different approaches to capacity-building, however. JI focused on religious indoctrination as an absolute prerequisite to war. Mujahidin KOMPAK was more interested in getting its recruits into battle as quickly as possible. JI was seen as slow and bureaucratic, Mujahidin KOMPAK as leaner, meaner, and quicker.

The impatience of some Mujahidin KOMPAK leaders (themselves also JI) with JI’s approach reflected a deeper split within JI over how, where, and when to wage jihad. A key fault line was between those associated with Hambali, including most of the people involved in the Bali and Marriott bombings, who have been particularly influenced by al-Qaeda’s 1998 fatwa urging attacks on Western targets, and what appears to be the majority faction in the organisation. That faction sees the fatwa’s implementation as inappropriate for Indonesia and damaging to the longer-term strategy of building a mass base through religious outreach.

The prevailing assumption has been that JI is the only organisation with the expertise, international ties, and ideology to constitute a likely partner in South East Asia for al-Qaeda or another international terrorist group. Analysis of the Poso conflict indicates that this risk analysis of radical Muslim violence in Indonesia needs to be revised. The rift within JI described in this report suggests that if the men associated with the Hambali faction can be captured – and several key figures are still at large – the immediate threat of another Bali or Marriott-style attack by JI in Indonesia could substantially ease.

JI’s majority faction, however, will continue to constitute a longer-term security threat for Indonesia. This is not only because its leaders believe that military force is necessary to achieve an Islamic state, but also because the religious indoctrination and recruitment efforts they are engaged in are likely to produce at least some cadres more hot-headed than their teachers, who look beyond Indonesia to a more international agenda.

At the same time, it is increasingly clear that there are many smaller, local groups in Indonesia, some of whose members have Afghan or Mindanao training, whose deep-seated grievances could lead them to draw inspiration from the bin-Laden fatwa. It is, of course, one thing to draw inspiration and another to work with a group like al-Qaeda to pull off a major attack. But it could be precisely the shorter, “results-oriented” training and the attraction of martyrdom that could make men like those who joined Mujahidin KOMPAK in Poso more dangerous than the “bureaucrats” of JI.

It remains important to keep the threat of terrorism in perspective. Indonesia is not about to be overrun with jihadists. They remain the radical fringe of a radical fringe. Their capacity to do damage, however, continues to be cause for serious concern.

The counter-terrorism lessons from Poso include:

  • Far more attention needs to be paid to understanding recruitment methods of jihadist organisations, not just JI but also local groups with more parochial concerns.
  • More attention also needs to be given to the religious indoctrination these groups undertake, while understanding that the same material taught by different teachers can lead in very different directions.
  • Top priority should be to prevent the emergence of the kind of international training center that Afghanistan provided in the past. The personal bonds established there are almost certainly more important than ideology or money in facilitating partnerships among jihadist groups.
  • Democratic reforms, especially an impartial, credible legal system, a neutral and competent law enforcement agency, and better access to justice, remain absolutely essential to preventing the kind of vigilantism that radical groups can manipulate.

Jakarta/Brussels, 3 February 2004

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