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Jemaah Islamiyah in South East Asia: Damaged but Still Dangerous
Jemaah Islamiyah in South East Asia: Damaged but Still Dangerous
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Report 63 / Asia

Jemaah Islamiyah in South East Asia: Damaged but Still Dangerous

Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), the South East Asian terrorist organisation based in Indonesia, remains active and dangerous, despite the mid-August 2003 arrest of Hambali, one of its top operatives.

Executive Summary

Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), the South East Asian terrorist organisation based in Indonesia, remains active and dangerous, despite the mid-August 2003 arrest of Hambali, one of its top operatives.

Though more than 200 men linked or suspected of links to it are now in custody in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and the Philippines, JI is far from destroyed. Indonesian police and their international counterparts have succeeded in seriously damaging the network, but the bombing of the J.W. Marriott Hotel in Jakarta on 5 August provided clear evidence that the organisation remains capable of planning and executing a major operation in a large urban centre.

The information emerging from the interrogation of JI suspects indicates that this is a bigger organisation than previously thought, with a depth of leadership that gives it a regenerative capacity. It has communication with and has received funding from al-Qaeda, but it is very much independent and takes most, if not all operational decisions locally.

New information suggests that JI was deliberately set up as a military organisation and that the division into units known as mantiqis and wakalahs – originally defined as districts and subdistricts – was actually a territorial command structure of brigades, battalions, companies, platoons, and squads.

All senior members of the central command trained in Afghanistan in the late 1980s and early 1990s, before JI formally existed. It was in the camps of the Saudi-financed Afghan mujahidin leader Abdul Rasul Sayyaf that they developed jihadist fervour, international contacts, and deadly skills.

Afghanistan veterans became the trainers of a new generation of mujahidin when JI set up a camp in Mindanao from 1996 to 2000 in a reciprocal arrangement with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). The recruits trained in everything from explosives to sharp-shooting and included not only JI members but also members of like-minded jihadist organisations from other parts of Indonesia, especially South Sulawesi and West Java. This means that Indonesia has to worry about other organisations as well, whose members have equally lethal skills but do not operate under the JI command structure. This background report describes the emergence of one such organisation in South Sulawesi that was responsible for the bombing of a McDonald’s restaurant and a car showroom in Makassar in December 2002.

The JI network is held together not just by ideology and training but also by an intricate network of marriages that at times makes it seems like a giant extended family. Insufficient attention has been paid to the role the women of JI play in cementing the network. In many cases, senior JI leaders arranged the marriages of their subordinates to their own sisters or sisters-in-law to keep the network secure.

JI also depends on a small circle of pesantrens – Muslim boarding schools – to propagate jihadist teachings. Of the more than 14,000 such schools in Indonesia, only a tiny number are committed to jihadist principles, but there is a kind of JI “Ivy League” to which JI members send their own children. Chief among these is Pesantren al-Mukmin, better known as Pondok Ngruki, whose founder, Abu Bakar Ba’asyir, is believed to have been JI’s amir or top leader between late 1999 and 2002.

JI thus remains dangerous. The arrests of Hambali and others surely have weakened its ability to operate, and the Indonesian police and their international counterparts have made major progress in hunting down its members. But this is an organisation spread across a huge archipelago, whose members probably number in the thousands. No single individual is indispensable.

The one piece of good news is that there are some indications that internal dissent is building within JI. Members are said to be unhappy with recent choices of targets, including the Marriott hotel bombing that killed mostly Indonesian workers. There is disagreement about the appropriate focus for jihad and over the use of a practice known as fa’i – robbery of non-Muslims to support Islamic struggle. Internal dissent has destroyed more than one radical group, but in the short term, we are likely to see more JI attacks.

Jakarta/Brussels, 26 August 2003

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