After failing to turn places like Aceh and West Nusa Tenggara into their strongholds, terrorism cells this year seem to be returning to familiar places, regaining control in former conflict zones like Ambon and Poso as well as operating in areas like Jakarta, Solo and Bali.
All of those places have been attacked by terrorists.
On March 17, the National Police’s counterterrorism unit, Detachment 88 (Densus 88), shot and killed five terrorists in two raids in the tourist areas of Sanur and Denpasar, Bali. The men were involved in an armed bank heist in 2010 in Medan that left one person dead, and were believed to have been plotting robberies and an attack on a popular tourist cafe, police said.
The five terrorists killed during the raids were believed to be from Bandung, West Java; Makassar, South Sulawesi and Jember, East Java. The five were also believed to have been planning robberies in the Denpasar and Badung districts.
Split into two groups, they had started surveillance of possible target areas using rented cars.
Insp. Gen. Saud Usman Nasution, a spokesman for the National Police, called on the people of Bali to remain alert, due to an imminent threat of terrorist attacks saying “there are still others that have not been captured, and others linked to this group.”
Bali was the scene of two major terrorist attacks including the 2002 Bali Bombing which killed 202 people, most of whom were foreigners. But Bali Governor Made Mangku Pastika said his province will always be a target.
“Bali is crowded. The whole world will know if a big firecracker explodes, let alone bombs,” he said, adding that terrorists want to send the message that they exist and should not be underestimated.
But with terrorism figures like Abu Bakar Bashir, Abu Tholut and Umar Patek now behind bars and the likes of Noordin M. Top and Dulmatin killed in police raids, terrorism cells seem to be leaderless and divided, with little capability and resources to carry out major attacks.
The current year has seen attacks that were considered minor, by comparison, and mostly directed at police, which analysts say are perceived by terrorism groups to be the enemy of Islam. Police are also on the target list as retaliation for the killings and arrests of their leaders.
An Associated Press analysis shows the number of strikes within the country has actually gone up, especially since 2010, when radical clerics called on their followers to focus on domestic targets rather than Westerners.
The more recent attacks have been conducted with less expertise, and the vast majority of victims have been Indonesians.
“It turns out that the terrorism problem in Indonesia is not finished yet,” said Maj. Gen. Tito Karnavian, a former counter-terrorism official. “The quality of their attacks has decreased, but the quantity has increased.”
Theft and robbery
Despite lacking in striking capabilities, police discovered in June that terrorism groups might have turned to a more sophisticated method to gather funds. The finding was made after Densus 88 arrested Rizki Gunawan, who is suspected of having made Rp 8 billion ($830,000) as a result of online hacking.
A Densus 88 source said that Rizki’s hacking work had funded the bombing of a church in Solo, in September. The source also said that Rizki had taken part in paramilitary training in Central Sulawesi in January and February last year under the leadership of Santoso, who is still on the run.
During the bombing of several churches in 2000 and the first Bali bombing in 2002, funding came directly from international terror group Al-Qaeda. After the funding stopped, terrorism cells resorted to donations from their own members and sympathizers.
But the 2002 Law on Terrorism, and later the 2010 Money Laundering Law, makes this method almost impossible, prompting many terrorism cells to conduct theft and robbery to finance their attacks.
Saud said the new funding methods were devised by Santoso, who came up with the strategy after realizing that Rizki and his protege, Cahya, were IT experts. The pair decided to hack a foreign exchange trading website.
Cahya was arrested in March for financing the Solo church bombing as well as channeling money to terrorism suspect Umar Patek, who was sentenced this year to 20 years for his role in the 2002 Bali bombing.
Santoso seems to be this year’s Most Wanted Terrorist, with nearly all terrorism attacks — successful and foiled — having had some form of his alleged involvement.
Turning to Poso
Police said that Santoso has been recruiting and training militants in Poso, Central Sulawesi, where he is known to head a local branch of the Jemaah Ansharut Tauhid, founded by firebrand cleric Bashir and considered by the US State Department as a terrorism network
Since August, Poso has been the scene of an intensive crackdown by Densus 88 seeking to root out the militant camp run by Santoso.
Last month, two officers sent to track down the location of the camp were found murdered with their throats slit. During the crackdown, police made several arrests and seized large quantities of firearms, bomb-making equipment and fully assembled explosives.
Police also shot and killed at least two suspected terrorists during the raids.
A link to the Poso terrorist cell has come to light elsewhere in Sulawesi, with an assassination attempt on South Sulawesi Governor Syahrul Yasin Limpo in Makassar on Nov. 11. The perpetrator, identified as Awaluddin, threw a pipe bomb at the governor during a speech but it failed to detonate. He was immediately detained.
South Sulawesi Police say they believe Awaluddin is part of the Poso cell due to the similarity of the bomb to those seized from the militant camp in Central Sulawesi.
Last Thursday, an unknown assailant attempted to shoot the chief of police of Poso Pesisir Utara in his yard. The officer was not hit, but police have not caught the perpetrator.
Rights activists have blamed the creeping religious radicalization in Poso on the authorities’ inability to adequately address long-running tension and grievances from the bloody sectarian violence that gripped the district from 1997 to 2000.
During those years more than 1,000 people were killed.
This year, police have also seized weapons and explosives in Ambon, Maluku, another place with a history of bloody sectarian violence.
On Aug. 17, Independence Day, assailants opened fire on a police post in Solo, Central Java injuring two officers. A day later, a grenade was thrown at a different police post in the city. No one was injured in that attack, police said.
A week later, a Solo police station was attacked. The attack left one officer dead. One of the two suspects was killed in a shootout with Densus 88. The other suspect was arrested a little while later.
In September, police arrested 10 Islamic militants and seized a dozen homemade bombs from a group suspected of planning suicide attacks against security forces and plotting to blow up the parliament building in Jakarta. The alleged bombmaker, Muhammad Toriq, turned himself in to police.
Mufti Makaarim, executive director of Institute for Defense, Security and Peace Studies think tank, said a key reason for the prevalent nature of terrorism in Indonesia is the government’s failure to formulate effective measures to prevent the spread of radicalism.
“A lot of former [terrorism] convicts return to terrorism, sometimes playing greater roles than before,” he said. “The state should be more involved [by] not letting [the convicts’] families be taken care of by other militants.”
Mufti also called for moderate Islamic groups to tackle the spread of radicalism.
But that would not be easy, terrorism expert Noor Huda Ismail said, adding that pundits have divergent views on how to combat radicalism.
“We need to step back and look at what we are trying to achieve,” Huda said. “Do you want to take out the [terrorists], the network, the ideology?”
“Tailor a program to tackle that with measurable results.”