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Three strategies for Jihad - and more prevention needed
Three strategies for Jihad - and more prevention needed
Could Talking to Mali's Jihadists Bring Peace?
Could Talking to Mali's Jihadists Bring Peace?
Op-Ed / Asia

Three strategies for Jihad - and more prevention needed

Originally published in Tempo

When police arrested the CIMB-Medan robbers, they found copies of a book called Encouraging the Heroic Mujahidin to Revive the Practice of Secret Assassinations (Ightiyalat)—with a chapter on letter-bombs. Written by a Saudi al-Qaeda member named Faris al-Zahroni alias Abu Jandal, it was translated into Indonesian and began circulating on radical websites probably around 2009. The focus on ightiyalat is one of several ideas imported from the Middle East that has gained steady ground in Indonesian jihadi circles.

A jihad manual released in early 2010, called Ensuring Security in Insecure Times (Mewujudkan Keamanan Di Zaman Serba Tak Aman) highlighted the importance of ightiyalat. Instructors in the Aceh training camp taught that ightiyalat was more effective than Noordin Top-style attacks. The group of high school students arrested in Klaten last January called themselves ‘Tim Ightiyalat’ or the Assassination Team.

The attraction of targeted killings underscores the changes that have taken place here over the last few years as large organizations have proved easy to infiltrate, and high-profile bombings of iconic buildings too often end up killing Muslims and taking operatives out of circulation without advancing political goals.

Look at some of the attacks since the 2009 hotel bombings:

  • Attempted killings of NGO workers in Aceh, March-November 2009. No one claimed responsibility, and the attacks remained a mystery until the Aceh camp participants were arrested.
     
  • Executions of police in Purworejo and Kebumen in March-April 2010. These were carried out by a small Bandung-based group with ties to JAT but not acting on JAT instructions.
     
  • Assault on Hamparan Perak police station September 2010 in which three policemen were killed. A group from Medan called Kumpulan Mujahidin Indonesia was responsible
     
  • Largely failed efforts at bombing campaign in December 2010 against churches and police posts in Central Java.The Klaten teenagers and their leader were the culprits.
     
  • Letter-bombs in Jakarta, March 2010, which are still under investigation.

These are all attempts at ightiyalat, secret assassinations that target generic or individual enemies without the perpetrator ever coming forward. There has been a shift away from large organizations to small groups of five to 10 members. The importance of JI, JAT and other organizations is that they provide the community through which social connections are made and ideas disseminated. JAT in Bandung, for example, helped provide a forum for Aman Abdurrahman, a radical ideologue just sentenced to nine years in prison for his role in the Aceh camp; the men who killed the police in Central Java met each other at Aman’s lectures. Neither Aman nor JAT directed them to murder, but the violence probably would not have happened without them.

There is no common socioeconomic profile of these groups. The Klaten youths were relatively poor; the Bandung group was almost all university-educated. Poverty was not what drove these people to radicalism. It was rather ideas, conveyed by persuasive individuals through religious discussion groups, in which local grievances could be fit into an easily understood framework of friends and foes. Reports of an international evangelical group trying to convert Muslims in Greater Aceh after the tsunami became a rationale for attacking foreign NGO workers. The death at police hands of some two dozen men after the Aceh camp broke up became the motive for murdering police in Central Java a few months later.

Working through small groups is ideologically sound, from a jihadi perspective, and essential to avoid detection. They are easy to form and difficult to distinguish from groups of friends that meet regularly for discussion. If groups that we have studied in Medan, Lampung, Bandung, Poso, Klaten and Laweyan are any indication, they tend to have a few members with ties back to the important groups of the past—JI, Kompak, or Darul Islam—but operate outside their control, and many members have no previous organizational affiliation.

This raises the question of what the large organizations are doing. They too have their own ideological imperative. Building on the framework laid down by the Jordaniascholar, Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, they argue that organizations or tanzim form the critical building block of an Islamic society; the long-term goal is to establish an Islamic state, and jihad is a critical means toward that end. But it cannot be waged without community support. Therefore, for JAT and JI, the imperative is growth and recruitment, through schools and dakwah; expanding the mass base is critical. This is accomplished in part by finding issues that resonate with the target population.

These organizations have found that while at an intellectual level, the struggles in Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Chechnya and elsewhere are important, they are too abstract for the broader public. The anti-Ahmadiyah and Christianization issues have a much more direct appeal, so in the interests of strengthening the mass base, they are willing to join Islamist coalitions for the purpose. Thus, we saw JAT take an active role in the anti-Christianization demonstrations in Bekasi, outside Jakarta, last year, organized by non-jihadi groups like Forum Umat Islam; join other groups to remove displaced Muslims family from church shelters after the Merapi volcanic eruption in Central Java; and place advertisements in the mass circulation magazine Sabili for JAT’s disaster relief crisis center. The ads stressed the role of the crisis center in combating Christianization. This kind of alliance-building with nonjihadis would have been unthinkable before translations of al-Maqdisi opened the ideological door to cooperation.

The two strategies of small group violence and large organizational base-building may seem diametrically opposed but in many ways they are complementary. The organizations have not abandoned active jihad, only deferred it. They have the resources, human and financial, to support the publication and dissemination of jihadi literature in print and on-line. Book launchings of Indonesian translations of al-Qaeda material remain an important vehicle for spreading ideas and attracting new members—who then become the recruiting pool for small groups. For both, military training is essential. The small groups can hit at the enemy, however defined, without necessarily jeopardizing the broader effort to build an Islamic state. The logical consequence of the teachings of Abu Bakar Ba’asyir and Aman Abdurrahman is violence, but they can maintain that they have no responsibility if some of their followers are inspired to action on the side.

We also have a third important category of jihadis in Indonesia who can draw on the other two camps: those who believe in open, frontal attack against apostate governments through armed insurgency. The men who formed the Aceh camp, led by Dulmatin, seem to have envisioned a training center whose graduates would eventually form the army of an Islamic revolutionary state, created in and expanding from Aceh.

Umar Patek is one of these revolutionaries. He fought side by side with the MILF and Abu Sayyaf in Mindanao; he was interested in the struggle in southern Thailand; and he somehow has ended up in Pakistan. Understanding the network that he and Dulmatin built in the Philippines, and that Dulmatin brought together on Java before his death last year is going to be critical to understanding how the revolutionaries fit in to the other jihadi groups operating in Indonesia.

The small groups do not need any international input other than ideological direction, which they can get from books—but the revolutionaries may have a hand in transmitting ideas. The focus of the large organizations is increasingly domestic, in order to attract the mass base, but the attraction of international solidarity with oppressed Muslims around the world remains powerful. The revolutionaries have the most interest in alliances with terrorist groups abroad and in learning from their experience. Several Indonesian blogspots now showcase the al-Qaeda agazine Inspire, and we know that the al-Qaeda media unit in Waziristan has regular contact with individuals here. There are also almost certainly contacts with the Yemen- based al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and its counterpart in North Africa.

What to do? The new anti-terror agency, BNPT, must focus on prevention, not creating programs out of thin air but starting with hard data on the groups that we know exist now and the mosques where their routine study sessions and discussions take place. If they do not yet have a list of the mosques where extremist groups have routinely met, they should, and they should be developing pilot projects in those communities. A condition should probably be included in the conditional release program for prisoners convicted of terrorism, banning any dakwah or preaching activities for the duration of parole. Abdullah Sunata and Aman Abdurrahman are two men who were back preaching within weeks of their release. They need to have an Arabist on staff who follows ideological developments in the Middle East and radical websites here and can alert BNPT staff to new trends that have implications for terrorist tactics in Indonesia.

We like to think that terrorism has been defeated in Indonesia.The networks are weaker, but they are very much alive.
 

Podcast / Africa

Could Talking to Mali's Jihadists Bring Peace?

In this episode of Hold Your Fire!, Richard Atwood and Naz Modirzadeh talk with Ibrahim Yahaya Ibrahim, Crisis Group’s Sahel expert, about whether it is time for a new strategy in Mali as the government and its allies struggle against jihadist insurgents. 

The war in the Sahel appears to have reached a stalemate. In Mali, fighting pits the Malian security forces, backed by regional militaries and French special forces and airpower, against an al-Qaeda-linked jihadist coalition, JNIM (the Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims). Since Mali’s crisis in 2012-2013, efforts to defeat jihadist militants have only seen their influence expand. Violence has spread across the Sahel at terrible human cost. Two successive coups in Bamako, Mali’s capital, have fuelled political instability. French officials appear exasperated by the lack of progress. Yet militants themselves are also under pressure, with several leaders killed over recent years. 

In this episode of Hold Your Fire! Richard Atwood and Naz Modirzadeh are joined by Ibrahim Yahaya Ibrahim, Crisis Group’s Sahel expert, to ask whether it is time for a new approach. They take stock of the insurgency’s current state, its aims and JNIM’s relationship with al-Qaeda. They discuss the future of the French presence and the consequences of the recent coups. They also speak at length about prospects for talks between the government and JNIM leaders, what such talks might entail and the challenges such a path would pose. 



Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more information, explore Crisis Group’s analysis on our Sahel and Mali regional pages as well as our work on Jihad in Modern Conflict. Be sure to keep an eye out for Ibrahim’s upcoming report.

Contributors

Interim President
atwoodr
Naz Modirzadeh
Board Member and Harvard Professor of International Law and Armed Conflicts
Consulting Analyst, Sahel
IbrahimYahayaIb