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Report 127 / Asia

Jihadism in Indonesia: Poso on the Edge

After eight months of trying to induce surrenders, the Indonesian police have conducted two major raids this month in Poso, Central Sulawesi, to arrest a group of men, most local members of the terrorist organisation Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), wanted for a range of bombings, beheadings and drive-by shootings.

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Executive Summary

After eight months of trying to induce surrenders, the Indonesian police have conducted two major raids this month in Poso, Central Sulawesi, to arrest a group of men, most local members of the terrorist organisation Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), wanted for a range of bombings, beheadings and drive-by shootings. Peaceful efforts had clearly failed but the high death toll from the second raid has turned the wanted men into victims. A jihad that has been largely directed against local Christians could now be focused on the police as a thoghut (anti-Islamic force) and give a boost to Indonesia’s weakened jihadi movement. The urgent task now is for the government to work with Muslim leaders to explain in detail who the suspects were and why force was used. It also should examine how police operations were conducted to see if further measures could have been taken to prevent casualties. Authorities likewise need to begin addressing a wide range of local grievances.

Just after dawn on 22 January 2007 Indonesian police moved in on a quiet Poso street. They found themselves confronting not just the men they sought but a much larger and heavily armed resistance, including mujahidin from elsewhere in the Poso area and several from Java. By the end of the day, one policeman and fourteen others were dead, and several on both sides wounded. Some two dozen were arrested as they fled.

This was the second attempt in two weeks to forcibly arrest more than twenty men who had been on a wanted list since May 2006. On 11 January, police raided the houses where they were believed to be hiding, killing two, arresting six and seizing a sizeable collection of weapons.

There were already indications that the suspects and their sympathisers, in an effort to enlist mujahidin from outside their own group, were portraying police operations as an attack on Muslims. Any deaths in the course of the operations would strengthen their hand, and they now have at least sixteen men from the two raids whom they will almost certainly claim as martyrs, or seventeen, counting a young man killed in October 2006 in a clash with police. One danger now is that the jihadis will try to take the anti-thoghut war outside Poso, targeting police in other cities.

Another danger is that the JI faction that opposes bombings of Western targets and sees Noordin Mohammed Top, South East Asia’s most wanted terrorist and the man believed to be behind some of Indonesia’s deadliest bombings, as a deviant, will see this jihad as legitimate.

Finally there is the possibility that some of the fugitives might try to get to Java to join forces with Noordin. The Poso mujahidin are experienced in targeted assassinations, a tactic that has not been used outside conflict areas. While the likelihood of an operational link-up between the two groups is slight, the addition of even one experienced sniper to Noordin’s group could be lethal.

Even if these dangers are avoided and the remaining suspects are arrested, no one should be complacent that the violence in Poso is over. There is too much unfinished business from the communal conflict there that reached its height in 2000-2001. Some mujahidin speak of the need to have children quickly so that a new generation of fighters can be produced. Even as the government continues its security operations, a more comprehensive approach to the conflict is urgently needed.

This report examines how one neighbourhood in Poso became a JI stronghold and how a small group of men managed to terrorise the city for three years before their identities became known. It looks at the links between the JI structures in Poso and Java and the local grievances and resentments driving the ongoing violence and analyses the way forward.

Jakarta/Brussels, 24 January 2007

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