For the first time, Indonesian police have uncovered terrorist activity without relying exclusively on information technology, phone taps and email monitoring. Instead police have harvested intelligence from members of terrorist cells who have been arrested and through other more “organic” forms of information-gathering.
Police success in the recent wave of terror raids was attributed to members of the public, whose reports helped the police to arrest the terrorists. Public participation was seen in Medan, North Sumatra; Sukoharjo, Central Java and closer to the capital in Cikampek, West Java.
Terrorist groups resemble the mythical hydra: Chop off one of its heads and a host of new heads will emerge. Detachment 88 is an important part of efforts to curb the threat of terrorism in Indonesia – but the elite police counterterrorist unit cannot do this alone. Fighting terrorists with weapons is only one part of the battle to eradicate terrorism. Killing suspected terrorists alone will not solve the problem.
Convicting and incarcerating terrorists in Indonesian courts and prisons is also not the only solution. Terrorists who are killed are proclaimed martyrs. Terrorists who are imprisoned are often exposed to already-radical prisoners or may themselves radicalize prison populations. There is no way to “de-radicalize” them. Some previously-incarcerated terrorists have not been monitored and then continued to commit additional acts of terrorism.
The funerals of jihadists such as the Bali bombers executed in 2008; Urwah and Dulmatin, who were killed in March 2010 and many others offer a chance for extremists and their supporters to honor their martyrs. There is evidence of significant coordination of extremist activities and planning for future terrorist attacks at these funerals.
Islamist terrorism, like communism, has its own ideology. Propaganda delivered through public sermons in mosques, books, email, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, CDs and many media make it clear that terrorism’s supporters hope to connect with each other – and with global groups such as al-Qaeda.
Indonesian jihadists have begun to connect with al-Qeada in several different ways.
First, individuals such as Hambali and Mukhlas have made direct, personal contact with members of al-Qaeda and later launched al-Qaeda-style car- or backpack-bomb attacks.
Second, Indonesians have joined groups affiliated with al-Qaeda, such as Jaish-e-Muhammad and Laskar-e-Taiba in Pakistan. Those groups are considered a fulcrum of the worldwide jihadist movement. Muhammad Syefudin of Al Ghuraba in Pakistan told me in an interview that he had fought with Laskar-e-Taiba.
Third, Indonesians jihadists are more often attending public sermons delivered by radical ideologists such as Oman Abdurraman.
Omar, a convict and an influential hard-line cleric in South Jakarta, has encouraged people to shun Indonesia’s secular government. Sofyan Sauri, a police officer, was reported to have fallen under the spell of Oman’s charismatic words, abandoned his duties and joined a recently-raided paramilitary training camp in Aceh.
Established jihadist organizations in Indonesia such as Darul Islam, Majlis Mujahidin Indonesia, Jamaah Anshorut Tauhid and even Jamaah Islamiyah no longer attract young recruits who aspire to join the global jihad against the US. New “recruits” have said in interviews that they use those organizations for cover or as a launch pad for their own radical agendas.
Even though the Indonesian government has stopped terrorist plots to assassinate the Indonesian political elite, the US remains the main target of terrorists and would-be terrorists. The US is still perceived as a pillar that supports “corrupt” regimes in the Muslim world.
Indonesian jihadists also believe that by pressuring US and its supporters, such as President Yudhoyono, their call to action will find resonance with Indonesians who are disappointed with the Indonesian government’s performance. These individuals are raw material for a revolution and they have the “new Islamic world view” that al-Qaeda had hoped to inspire from its inception.
The question is: How could people who are on the fringe, even for radical Islamic groups, challenge an adversary as powerful as the Indonesian government? Theirs is clearly an utopian goal. We must not underestimate terrorists’ ability to mount further attacks, but neither should we exaggerate or overreact. If we do, we will fall into the hands of the terrorists.
The writer is the director of the Institute for International Peace Building.
Jakarta Post, Saturday, June 12 2010