Indonesia: Noordin Top’s Support Base
Indonesia: Noordin Top’s Support Base
Table of Contents
  1. Overview
Indonesia's Police: The Problem of Deadly Force
Indonesia's Police: The Problem of Deadly Force
Briefing 95 / Asia

Indonesia: Noordin Top’s Support Base

More than a month after the 17 July 2009 hotel bombings in Jakarta, Noordin Mohammed Top remains at large, but his network is proving to be larger and more sophisticated than previously thought.

I. Overview

More than a month after the 17 July 2009 hotel bombings in Jakarta, Noordin Moham­med Top remains at large, but his network is proving to be larger and more sophisticated than previously thought. Not only was it responsible for coordinated bombings at two luxury hotels in the heart of Jakarta’s business district, but it also was apparently contemplating a car bomb attack on President Yudhoyono’s residence. As more information comes to light, it looks increasingly likely that Noordin sought and received Middle Eastern funding. While the extent of foreign involvement this time around remains unclear, recruitment in Indonesia has proved disturbingly easy. The salafi jihadi ideology that legitimises attacks on the U.S. and its allies, and Muslims who associate with them, remains confined to a tiny fringe, but that fringe includes disaffected factions of many different radical groups and impressionable youths with no history of violence.

Many elements of Noor­din’s support base are familiar. Although he broke away from the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) organisation around 2004, Noordin retains an inner circle of JI militants who have been with him for the last four or five years. He can rely on many more, including teachers at JI schools and their students, to provide hiding places or logistical aid as needed. He has made repeated attempts to tap into the leadership of jihadi groups, not just JI but smaller organisations as well. In some cases, militant jihadis who want more action than their leaders may seek him out, rather than vice versa. He often manages to bring in a few family members and neighbours of those who hide him. The more systematic recruitment of foot soldiers seems to be done more by the inner circle than by Noordin himself. They recruit new youths as needed through study sessions in local mosques, or pick up young men radicalised through earlier exposure to jihadi preachers but then left behind when those preachers move on or are arrested. In every one of his operations, the suicide bombers were identified first by Noordin’s lieutenants and only afterwards met the man himself.

There are new ele­ments and new faces in the July attacks. One family has emerged as pivotal, both to the execution of the 17 July plot and other planned attacks, as well as to the contacts with the Middle East. Two brothers, Syaifudin Jaelani and Mohamed Syahrir are on the police wanted list as members of Noordin’s team. One of their sisters married the man who brought the bomb into the Ritz-Carlton and who died in a police siege in Temanggung, Central Java, on 8 August. The other sister was briefly married to a man who booked the Marriott room used by the bombers and whose arrest broke the case open for the police. The network of this one family extends from Yemen, where Syaifudin studied for four years, to Indonesia’s national airline, Garuda, where Mohamed Syahrir worked as a technician. Noordin may still be the commander, but he has some exceedingly well-connected lieutenants who made their debut in the hotel bombings.

Un­covering Noordin’s network is not a question of tracking down a closed group with a defined membership. It seems to be a loosely organised, almost ad hoc collection of people, largely but not exclusively on Java, that can easily adapt to arrests or deaths of members. It relies on friends, friends of friends, families and co-workers, with each person involved a potential recruiter of others.

This briefing ex­amines the linkages among the people Noordin drew on for the 17 July attacks in an effort to understand his support base. It is focused on the local network, mostly on Java, not on the overseas links, as those were still being uncovered as this went to press. It is not about the ongoing police investigation and does not draw on any privileged information from the men arrested since 17 July. It is necessarily an interim study, using the known pieces of the puzzle to help explain why Noordin and his network have not only survived in Indonesia, but in some senses thrived. It is based on press reports and interviews conducted in connection with the current investigation, and extensive reading of documents collected for previous Crisis Group reports.

Jakarta/Brussels, 27 August 2009

Op-Ed / Asia

Indonesia's Police: The Problem of Deadly Force

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.