CRACKDOWN: Security forces have killed 60 and arrested 700 militants but new terror cells continue to be set up, writes Sara Schonhardt
ANSYAAD Mbai, the director of the National Counterterrorism Agency in Jakarta, has a genealogy of terrorism spread across his office wall. It starts in 1949, the year Dutch colonisers acknowledged Indonesia’s independence, and extends to last year. Like a family tree, it begins with one line and gradually branches out into an increasingly complex web with names and photographs of the country’s most notorious terrorists.
“It’s like a database, the framework to coordinate intelligence,” he said.
But lately the database has expanded beyond the boundaries of the chart, as smaller, more local groups with different objectives than those of their al-Qaeda-affiliated predecessors drive the terrorist threat.
In the 10 years since militants blew up two nightclubs on the resort island of Bali, killing 202 people, Indonesian security forces have arrested more than 700 people on suspicion of being militants and killed about 60. All the major suspects in the Bali attacks on Oct 12, 2002, have been killed or imprisoned.
Analysts say operations by Detachment 88, the elite counterterrorism squad trained by the United States and Australia, and formed shortly after the Bali blasts, have helped cripple Jemaah Islamiyah, the Southeast Asian offshoot of al-Qaeda responsible for the bombings.
The discovery in 2010 of a paramilitary training camp in the province of Aceh that brought together a number of major militant groups also hurt extremist organisations, inspiring a nationwide dragnet that led to the arrest and conviction of about 200 terrorism suspects, according to the International Crisis Group, a non-governmental organisation that has studied radical activity in the country.
But while the security forces’ efforts and internal rifts have left Jemaah Islamiyah weakened, some disaffected individuals and members of extremist groups have moved to form new cells and seek new recruits.
Their overarching goal, analysts say, remains to establish an Islamic state in Indonesia. The country is predominantly Muslim, but has a secular government. For many, however, the focus is also on exacting revenge against the security forces for the crackdown.
The Crisis Group says many of these new groups are small and ad hoc, and while they still seek inspiration and material support from large jihadist organisations, they act independently.
“The threat we’ve seen recently is manageable and is being managed, but it’s hard to extinguish,” said Jim Della-Giacoma, the Crisis Group’s Southeast Asia project director.
“There are still individuals with such radical ideas that they want to use violence, and still groups out there thinking of Western targets.”
There have been more than a dozen terrorist plots since 2010, according to a recent Crisis Group report. In March, the counterterrorism police killed five men on Bali who analysts say had been radicalised in prison. Security officials say the men were planning a series of robberies to finance a future attack on the island. The police have stepped up security in recent days after receiving intelligence of a possible attack on Friday during commemorations of the 2002 Bali bombings.
Attacks since the last major blast — in 2009, when terrorists bombed the JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels in Jakarta, killing seven people — have been less damaging, as in the cases of two suicide bombers last year: one struck a mosque in a police compound and the other a church, but they killed only themselves. Still, they have raised concerns about the ease with which small groups of extremists can form. Analysts say radical preachers spread their message and seek recruits through gatherings like study groups.
“They’re targeting those who have no critical thinking, people searching for an identity,” said Noor Huda Ismail, founder of the Institute for International Peace Building, which tries to rehabilitate people who have served prison terms on terrorism charges.
Huda, who attended an Islamic boarding school founded by a radical preacher, Abu Bakar Bashir, said many hardline groups had charismatic leaders who cited perceived injustices against Muslims to justify violence against the government or targeted religions they deemed antagonistic to Islam.
While the police have largely been successful in recent years in stopping plots, analysts say, combating the ideologies behind them has proved more difficult.
Most of Indonesia’s 240 million people practise a moderate form of Islam. But the blossoming of democracy after strongman Suharto stepped down from the presidency in 1998 permitted more militant expressions of Islam. NYT