Counter-Terrorism: Detachment 88 Protects Indonesia


March 16, 2014: Indonesian counter-terror forces, led by Detachment 88, are closing in on the last Islamic terrorist organization still active in the country. This is MIT (Mujahadeen Indonesia Timur, or Mujahadeen of Eastern Indonesia) which is led by Santoso (single names are common in this region). The group has carried out a some attacks in the last few years but has suffered heavy losses in the process. For example on February 7th two of Santoso’s lieutenants were killed when they tried to ambush some police but were detected by the alert cops and hit with a more firepower than they expected. The month before police captured two MIT men who were on their way to plant some bombs. Detachment 88 has found that MIT is concentrating most of its efforts on recruiting and setting up trained cells of terrorists in other parts of the country. Detachment 88 thus has an advantage in that their counter-terrorism operatives are very experienced while most of the people they are hunting are not and thus easier to track down. 

In the last year Detachment 88 has had a lot of success detecting and arresting Islamic terrorists all over Indonesia. These Islamic radicals are not popular with most Indonesians and the police get plenty of useful tips. Islamic terrorist groups help make themselves targets by carrying out armed robberies and other criminal acts to support their operations. A lot of this counter-terrorism activity takes place in central Indonesia and the island of Sulawesi. For two decades this island has been the scene of growing Islamic radicalism and terrorism. That’s because over half the population on Sulawesi is non-Moslem (mostly Christian). In the late 1990s, Islamic militants came along, preaching violence against infidels (non-Moslems). Over a thousand people have died so far, but extra police and soldiers have eliminated most of the violence in the past five years. Hundreds of Islamic radicals are still on the island and nearby West Java, and are still preaching violence. Police activity in Sulawesi kept increasing because it was believed more members of terror group Jemaah Islamiah (JI) were coming to Sulawesi to hide out. Detachment 88 made Sulawesi very uncomfortable for the Islamic terrorists.

Christians are a minority nationwide while 87 percent of the population is Moslem. The tensions in Sulawesi are not entirely religious. The Christian areas used to be almost entirely Christian, but over the last three decades, the government has encouraged (with laws, money and land) Moslems from overpopulated areas, to move to less populated Christian areas. This has created frictions.

When counter-terrorism wiped out the JI presence on Sulawesi new Islamic radical groups formed. Over the last decade the police have been working their way down an increasingly threadbare list of terrorist suspects. Moreover, it's been years since JI has been able to launch a major attack. This is because counter-terrorism forces have created a good intelligence network. Thus threats are quickly detected. Since 2007 attacks against non-Moslems have resulted in a stronger and stronger backlash from the police, and Christians. After 2007 the vigilantes switched tactics and began concentrating on driving Christians into ghettos, and reducing the number of Moslems converting to Christianity. Anti-infidel (non-Moslem) violence is a growing problem, as Islamic radicals seek an outlet for their aggression that won't land them in prison. All this Islamic radical activity keeps producing new recruits for Islamic terror groups. With little support from mosques or the larger Islamic organizations, these new Islamic terrorists have to resort to crime to fund their operations.

The recent raids hoped to obtain more information on the whereabouts of Santoso, an older JI operative who is believed to be the mastermind behind the new Islamic terrorist groups forming on Sulawesi and elsewhere in central Indonesia. In the last few years the police have been brutal against separatists in Papua but quite lax against Islamic radicals attacking Christians and Moslems who do not follow strict lifestyle rules. The government believes it is following the votes by tolerating the police brutality (which has been common in Indonesia for decades). Many Indonesians (Moslems and non-Moslems alike) believe this policy has allowed Islamic terrorist groups to keep recruiting and avoiding eradication.

Detachment 88 is now ten years old and has played a major role in suppressing Islamic terrorism in Indonesia. Back in 2004 the national police formed "Anti-Terror Detachment 88" by selecting volunteers from Mobile Brigade (Brimob) fast reaction unit, detectives, the bomb squad and the police intelligence division. The new unit was meant to provide highly trained personnel for responding to terrorist attacks or threats. The new unit underwent three months of training and getting to know each other and went to work. Detachment 88 now has about 400 personnel and continues to be funded and trained by the United States. This has given Detachment 88 access to the latest technology and techniques as well as American intel that is only shared with trusted foreign partners.



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