Terrorism in Indonesia: Noordin’s Networks
Terrorism in Indonesia: Noordin’s Networks
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Indonesia's Police: The Problem of Deadly Force
Indonesia's Police: The Problem of Deadly Force
Report / Asia 3 minutes

Terrorism in Indonesia: Noordin’s Networks

The Indonesian police are closing in on Noordin Mohammed Top, South East Asia’s most wanted terrorist.

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Executive Summary

The Indonesian police are closing in on Noordin Mohammed Top, South East Asia’s most wanted terrorist. In a dramatic pre-dawn raid on 29 April 2006 in Wonosobo, Central Java, they shot and killed two members of his inner circle and arrested two others. If and when they capture Noordin, they will have put the person most determined to attack Western targets out of commission. But the problem of Noordin’s support structure will still have to be tackled.

For four years Noordin has tapped into jihadist networks to build a following of diehard loyalists, and those same networks may be available to others. Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), the region’s largest jihadist organisation, continues to provide the hard core of that following: the two killed in the Wonosobo raid were longstanding JI members, as was at least one of those arrested. But beginning in 2004, Noordin began reaching out to young men from other organisations and some with no previous organisational affiliation.

Many JI members reportedly see the group he has cobbled together – he grandly calls it al-Qaeda for the Malay Archipelago – as a deviant splinter that has done great harm to the organisation they joined in the mid-1990s. Noordin, however, reportedly sees himself as leading JI’s military wing, even though he answers to no one. He justifies his actions by citing jihadist doctrine that under emergency conditions – for example if surrounded by the enemy – a group of two or three or even a single individual can take on the enemy without instructions from an imam.

This report examines the way in which Noordin has relied on personal contacts to put his group together. It is based on interrogation depositions, court documents, and Indonesian press reports, with information crosschecked through extensive interviews with knowledgeable sources, both official and unofficial.

For the Marriott Hotel bombing in Jakarta in August 2003, he used a small circle of Sumatra-based JI members who had either been associated with a JI school in Malaysia, Lukman al-Hakiem, or with its prototype, the al-Mukmin Islamic boarding school in Ngruki, near Solo, Central Java.

For the Australian embassy bombing in September 2004, he relied on three networks: the East Java division of JI; alumni of JI schools in Central Java; and a West Java-based faction of an old insurgency, Darul Islam, whose members supplied the key operatives. While individuals from that Ring Banten faction had worked with JI before, military operations had never before been outsourced in this way. It was one indication that Noordin was working on his own.

After the embassy bombing, Noordin was short of funds, weapons and experienced fighters. He turned to two men who had access to all these, neither of whom was JI. One was from a different Darul Islam faction with long experience in the Philippines; the other had been head of the Ambon office of the Islamic charity KOMPAK and could mobilise veterans of Indonesian communal conflicts. Intense negotiations followed with couriers used to relay messages between the bosses. It turned out that neither the Darul Islam nor the KOMPAK leader was interested in joining forces but both were arrested in mid-2005 and began to lose control over their followers, some of whom went over to Noordin.

For the second Bali bombing in October 2005, Noordin relied on his inner circle, including the two who were killed on 29 April, to find and train new members. Recruitment appeared to be rather ad hoc, despite written materials attributed to Noordin suggesting a tightly organised cell structure designed to undertake military operations.

Noordin has shown remarkable determination and capacity to plan operations even as he loses his closest colleagues to police dragnets and remains the target of Indonesia’s biggest ever manhunt. It is not clear who among potential successors could do as well.

But his behaviour following Bali II suggests he is running short of money and experienced cadres. The loss on 29 April of the men who served as both couriers and recruiters has to be a significant blow. The Wonosobo raid was a triumph for the police, and Noordin’s arrest will be an even greater one. But the networks he drew on will survive as a potential source of recruits for future operations.

Jakarta/Brussels, 5 May 2006

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