Counter-Terrorism: The Opposite Of Sanctuary In Indonesia


July 21, 2015: While Indonesia has managed to control Islamic terrorism within its borders it has not been able to completely eliminate it. Thus so far (as of early July) this year there have been two Islamic terrorist incidents. In March someone planted a chlorine bomb in a shopping center. This bomb was supposed to go off and send poisonous chlorine gas through the ventilation system. Fortunately the bomb did not operate as designed and police were able to examine the components and identify the builder. In early July another bomb went off in a shopping mall toilet, but it used low grade, homemade explosives and caused little damage and no casualties. Enough components were recovered to identify the builder as the same person who built a bomb for a 2010 attack. Police keep a close watch on Islamic radicals and the increased use of security cameras provides clues not available before. It has become very difficult to be an Islamic terrorist in Indonesia.

For that reason a growing number of Islamic radical Indonesians are going abroad and committing terrorist acts. This was made quite public in 2014 when a wealthy businessman claimed to be the leader of the Indonesia branch of ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) and was openly encouraging Indonesians to go and fight in Syria. The businessman (Chep Hernawan) said that ISIL was not active in Indonesia because there is no need to be. But in countries like Syria and Iraq there is a need to violently defend Islam. Hernawan provided money and contacts to get volunteers to Syria and police believe that over 500 Indonesians are currently in Syria fighting (or already dead). Hernawan boasted of paying to recruit and send nearly 200 of those ISIL recruits to Syria. Many Indonesians oppose such recruiting and support for ISIL, but police point out that there is no law against it and attempts to pass such a law have always been thwarted by Islamic conservative politicians. The current Indonesian government seeks to change that, but it may still take a while. Meanwhile by mid-2015 Chep Hernawan had been arrested for fraud and embezzlement, put on trial and convicted. He was sent to jail for six months. His lawyer insisted the charges were politically motivated.

ISIL recruiting has long been a hot topic in Indonesia because several dozen Indonesians who went to fight in with al Qaeda Afghanistan during the 1980s returned to Indonesia and formed Islamic terrorist groups that, after 2001, carried out several spectacular attacks, including one in 2002 that killed nearly 200 foreign tourists. This resulted in a major counter-terrorism campaign that eventually killed or drove into exile nearly all the active Indonesian Islamic terrorists. There is a real fear that some of those returning from Syria will try to emulate what the Afghan veterans did. Police say that they will monitor returning ISIL men and act if they break any laws against terrorist activities in Indonesia. If such an attack is carried out a law outlawing overseas would be easier to pass and that may be what it will take because at the moment Islamic conservative politicians have the ability to block that kind of law.

Meanwhile the main Indonesian anti-terror organization, Detachment 88, has been seeking to shut down the last few Islamic terrorist organizations still active in the country. The main group still active 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 some attacks in the last few years but has suffered heavy losses in the process. For example on February 7th 2014 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. MIT has been further weakened by members who have gone off to join ISIL. In response Santoso has called on foreign Islamic terrorists to come to Indonesia to help out. So far the government has been able to detect and arrest such foreign Islamic terrorists.

Since 2013 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. Since the 1990s 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, since 2009, eliminated most of the violence. Hundreds of Islamic radicals are still on the island and nearby West Java, and are still preaching violence. Police activity in Sulawesi keeps 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 but it is known that MIT still has some hidden camps out in the Sulawesi jungles.

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 since the 1980s 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 remains 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.





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