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Indonesia's Police: The Problem of Deadly Force
Indonesia's Police: The Problem of Deadly Force
Report 189 / Asia

Indonesia: Jihadi Surprise in Aceh

As revelations about a jihadi coalition calling itself “Al Qaeda Indonesia in Aceh” continue to emerge, the Indonesian government should take steps to tighten control over prisons, provide more training for police in confronting armed suspects and consider banning paramilitary training by non-state actors.

Executive Summary

The discovery in late February 2010 of a jihadi training camp in Aceh came as a surprise in three ways. It revealed a major mutation in Indonesian jihadi ranks: a new coalition had emerged that rejected both Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), the best-known such organisation in the region, and the more violent splinter group led until his death in September 2009 by Noordin Top. It had chosen Aceh as a base, despite the antipathy of Acehnese to radical Islam. And it was led by Dulmatin, one of South East Asia’s most wanted terrorists, whom officials in both Indonesia and the Philippines believed was in Mindanao.

By mid-April police had arrested 48 coalition members, killed eight, including Dulmatin, and were looking for about fifteen others. The group’s existence and the government response show that despite enormous gains made in counter-terrorism efforts since the first Bali bombs in 2002, intelligence remains weak; monitoring of prisons and ex-prisoners remains a problem; police handling of “active shooters” needs improvement; and corruption continues to be a major lubricant for terrorist activities in Indonesia.

Dulmatin’s return to Indonesia, probably in late 2007, set in motion what became known as the lintas tanzim or cross-organisational project. Several influential jihadi leaders independently had reached the conclusion that JI had become too passive, abandoning jihad for religious outreach, and Noordin’s group had no plans beyond preparing for the next attack. One influential cleric who joined the group, Oman Rochman alias Aman Abdurrahman, argued that Indonesians should follow the teachings of Jordanian radical scholar Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi and wage jihad to establish Islamic law but in a way that did not cause Muslim casualties. For both Aman and other leaders, including Dulmatin, it was critical to establish a secure base from which operations could be launched and the nucleus of an Islamic state established. The enemy should be defined not simply as anyone from the U.S. or allied countries, but as anyone who obstructed the application of Islamic law – and that meant that many Indonesian officials were high on the list.

One of Aman’s followers, through prison visits, had ties to some of Dulmatin’s closest associates – JI members who had joined Noordin, and men from another jihadi organisation called KOMPAK who had trained in Mindanao. He also had ties to Aceh, having once been stationed with the police there, and it was he who suggested that Aceh could be the secure base. Another Acehnese member of Aman’s study group recruited about twenty Acehnese, hoping they would bring in others; most were local followers of a well-known salafi cleric in Aceh Besar district. The man the jihadis wanted badly to recruit, however, was an Acehnese cleric with a proven track record of mobilising mass demonstrations in support of Islamic law and sending his students out on vigilante raids against vice. His school was a base for the Aceh branch of the Islamic Defenders Front (Front Pembela Islam, FPI), a national group that in Jakarta is known for its thuggish attacks on bars, brothels, restaurants open during Ramadan, deviant sects and “unauthorised” churches. The lintas tanzim project succeeded in recruiting some FPI members but not their leader.

In the end, Dulmatin and the others went along with the idea of setting up a secure base in Aceh, believing that since the rebel Free Aceh Movement (Gerakan Aceh Merdeka, GAM) had fought the Indonesian army there for more than 30 years, it had suitable terrain; alone among Indonesian provinces, it was authorised to apply Islamic law and many community leaders were pro-sharia; and a number of hardline groups that had set up shop in Aceh after the 2004 tsunami were potential allies. In fact, community support was negligible and the coalition was doomed from the start. The experiment ended with a series of police raids in Aceh and Jakarta in February, March and April.

The failure of this initiative raises the question of where Indonesian jihadism goes next. Three streams are alive, if not particularly well. One is the JI variant, which teaches jihad, advocates military training, but says the faithful currently lack the resources to take on the enemy and therefore should focus on building up their ranks through dakwah (religious outreach). The second is the network led by the late Noordin Top focused on the use of suicide bombings to terrorise the U.S. and its allies. The third was represented by the coalition, but also by its individual components: KOMPAK, Darul Islam, disgruntled JI members and others. Like Noordin, it was ready for jihad now, but only as the means to the end of applying Islamic law in full. If Noordin favoured bombings, the coalition members preferred targeted assassinations, as less likely to result in Muslim deaths. Further mutations and realignments will almost certainly occur; it is not impossible that the coalition’s failure will lead some to reconsider their distaste for Noordin’s tactics.

Dulmatin’s involvement in the Aceh group also underscores the possibility of cross-border jihadi cooperation. Dulmatin wanted the Aceh training camp to be a centre for mujahidin from across the region, but it remains unclear exactly what kind of cooperation he envisaged with his Abu Sayyaf and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) colleagues in Mindanao.

Jakarta/Brussels, 20 April 2010

Op-Ed / Asia

Indonesia's Police: The Problem of Deadly Force

Originally published in The Interpreter

My four year-old daughter recently came home from her Jakarta kindergarten with a story about a visit to the school from the head of our local police station. 'If there is a robber and he's running away, the policeman will pull out his gun, fire in the air, and if he doesn't stop then he will shoot him in the leg', she recounted breathlessly.

I have spent 25 years working in and around conflict zones, including more than a decade in Indonesia. My reaction might not have been that of the average parent. 'That', I replied, 'is a violation of Perkap Number 8.' Needless to say, my reference to Police Regulation Number 8 of 2009 regarding Implementation of Human Rights Principles and Standards in the Discharge of Duties of the Indonesian National Police was lost on her. She thought the visit was great.

I had recalled Perkap 8 when re-reading the Hansard of the recent sparring between Australian Foreign Minister Senator Bob Carr and Victoria Greens Senator Richard Di Natale over the police shooting of protesters in Papua. But it is not just in Papua where questionable use of deadly force by the Indonesian National Police (INP) takes place. It happens across the country. And this was what Perkap 8 was put in place to prevent.

Article 47 of Perkap 8 says that 'the use of firearms shall be allowed only if strictly necessary to preserve human life' and 'firearms may only be used by officers: a. when facing extraordinary circumstances; b. for self defense against threat of death and/or serious injury; c. for the defense of others against threat of death and/or serious injury.' This is Indonesian law, taken from the UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials, and this is what should be used to assess police actions, wherever in the country they occur.

The fatal shooting on 14 June 2012 of Mako Tabuni, deputy head of the National Committee of West Papua (KNPB), in Jayapura, capital of Papua province, made Senate Estimates in 2012. The shooting of three protesters in Sorong on 30 April 2013, West Papua province, was mentioned in the testy 5 June 2013 exchanges between Senators Carr and Di Natale. You can watch it above.

In the first incident, detectives shot a suspect in the leg as he was running away and then left him to die in a hospital allegedly without making any effort to treat his wounds. In the second, police claim they were threatened by armed KNPB activists. Without more information it is difficult to judge if their response was disproportionate. Police always say they are shooting in self-defense, but it has become such a common excuse that it has started to lose its plausibility.

Cases outside Papua do not garner much attention in Australia, but lethal shootings happen all the time. On 1 September 2011 seven villagers were killed during a rowdy protest against police brutality in the Central Sulawesi district of Buol, a place so obscure even most Indonesians cannot find it on a map.

On 7 March 2013, soldiers burned down a police station in Baturaja, South Sumatra, after their off-duty comrade, First Private Heru Oktavianus, was shot dead by a police officer while speeding away from a traffic violation.

On 8 May 2013 police in Java killed six suspected terrorists in a series of raids. The police usually claim the suspects were armed and resisted arrest. But it is not always true, and many could have almost certainly been captured alive.

Ordinary criminals are shot with distressing frequency, as my daughter's visitor suggests, without any outcry at home or abroad.

Perkap 8 was signed by the then police chief Sutanto, a real reformer. It has not gotten very far. One foreign police officer working on a bilateral community policing program in a large metropolitan command told me he had once seen a copy of the Perkap on the chief's desk but suspected it had been disseminated no further.

Even when progressive regulations or orders are issued and disseminated, they are not always followed. In October 2012, the police chief of Papua, Tito Karnavian, former head of the anti-terrorism unit Detachment 88 (Densus 88), announced that he had banned police from using live ammunition when handling demonstrations in the region. This was progress and it was implemented for some demos, but the deaths in the Sorong case suggest live ammunition was used.

As Article 46 of Perkap 8 says, 'all officers must be trained in the use of power, equipment and firearms that can be used in applying force' and 'must be trained in non-violent techniques and methods.' Training almost 400,000 officers across 33 provinces is a logistical challenge, though it might be a good idea to start with elite units such as Densus 88 or personnel in the Papua provinces.

The new national head of the INP, about to be appointed, might breathe new life into two reforms already in place: implementation of Perkap 8 and Chief Sutanto's other landmark regulation on community policing, Perkap 7. The INP is a very hierarchical organisation that does follow firm orders from above. While its size makes complex reform difficult, its hierarchical nature makes implementing existing regulations with firm orders easier.

The first duty of the incoming INP chief, who reports directly to the president, will be to secure the 2014 elections. Making sure those deployed to safeguard this 'festival of democracy' are properly trained and equipped to use non-lethal force will be an important first step. After a new head of state is elected, he or she should consider issuing a directive that would see Perkap 8 properly implemented. The use of less deadly force could even be politically popular in some parts.

Outside help may also be needed, and this is where Australia comes in. A few decades back, the Victorian state police had a problem of using too much deadly force and created Project Beacon to try to rectify it. They changed the way they thought about the problem, overhauled training, and gave officers on the beat new tools, like pepper spray. Foreign assistance along these lines could help the INP improve performance and increase accountability. Crisis Group has long argued that the INP needs better orders, training, and equipment for the use of non-deadly force.

If the INP is to be more the service it aspires to be rather than the force it is, it needs to shed its military mindset, hold serious post-operation reviews after each fatal incident, and decrease reliance on shooting first and asking questions later, regardless of whether officers are following locally accepted standard procedure. When the time comes and the INP is ready to carry forward the reform of Perkap 8, Australia should be there to help.