Indonesia's Police: The Problem of Deadly Force
Indonesia's Police: The Problem of Deadly Force
Report 204 / Asia

Indonesian Jihadism: Small Groups, Big Plans

A suicide bomb at an Indonesian police station last week fits a pattern of “individual jihad” aimed at local targets undertaken by small groups acting independently of large jihadi organisations but sometimes with their encouragement.

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Executive Summary

Violent extremism in Indonesia increasingly is taking the form of small groups acting independently of large jihadi organisations but sometimes encouraged by them. This is in part a response to effective law enforcement that has resulted in widespread arrests and structural weakening of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), Jama’ah Ansharut Tauhid (JAT) and other organisations accused of links to terrorism. But it is also the result of ideological shifts that favour “individual” over “organisational” jihad and low-cost, small-scale targeted killings over mass casualty attacks that inadvertently kill Muslims. The suicide bombing inside a police station mosque on 15 April 2011 and a spate of letter bombs delivered in Jakarta in mid-March are emblematic of the shift. The government needs urgently to develop prevention strategies to reduce the likelihood that more such groups will emerge.

Unlike the small group proponents, advocates of “organisational” jihad believe that nothing can be accomplished without a large organisation and a strong leader, but if the ultimate goal is an Islamic state, then it is imperative to build public support. Rather than engage in violence, groups like JI and JAT are focused for the moment on building up a mass base, by finding issues that resonate with their target audience. Increasingly this means a greater focus on local rather than foreign “enemies”, with officials who are seen as oppressors, particularly the police; Christians; and members of the Ahmadiyah sect topping the list. It also means a greater willingness than in the past to join coalitions with non-jihadi groups.

The two strands of jihadism are complementary. The larger organisations can fund the religious outreach that attracts potential recruits for the small groups. They can also provide the translators and distributors for material down­loaded from extremist websites in Arabic or English that buttress the small group approach. They can maintain plausible deniability for acts of violence while trying to rebuild their ranks, while at the same time providing the cover under which small groups emerge.

The report looks at detailed case studies of small violent groups that have emerged in Indonesia in 2009 and 2010 in Medan and Lampung, on Sumatra, and in Bandung and Klaten, on Java. All involved at least one former prisoner; three of the four had links to JAT but operated independently of JAT control. Three of the four also involved mosque-based study groups that evolved into hit squads, and all were committed to the idea of ightiyalat, secret assassinations. In none of them was poverty a significant driver of radicalisation.

Information about these groups is only available because their members were caught. This raises the question of how many similar small groups operating under police radar exist across Indonesia that will only come to light when one of their murderous attempts succeeds.

Prevention strategies that go beyond law enforcement are critical, and the new National Anti-Terrorism Agency (Badan Nasional Penanggulangan Terorisme, BNPT) has an important role to play in designing and testing them. All such strategies, however, must be based on well-grounded research and informed by serious study of what has and has not worked elsewhere.

Jakarta/Brussels, 19 April 2011

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