Fighting IS on Jakarta's home front

Fighting IS on Jakarta's home front

The recent flurry of crackdowns on suspected local Islamic State (IS) movement supporters in Jakarta, West Java, Banten, East Java and Central Sulawesi has served as a strong warning about the present and clear danger of the brutal international terrorist group in Indonesia.

Over the past week, the National Police's counterterrorism squad, Densus 88, arrested eight suspects in greater Jakarta and Malang, East Java. In addition, police also detained 16 Indonesians deported from Turkey after their bid to cross the border into Syria had been foiled.

In Poso, a terrorism hotbed in the once war-torn mountainous, jungle-clad regency in Central Sulawesi, the authorities reported they have apprehended 15 of an estimated 35 accomplices of terrorist leader Santoso so far this year.

The authorities have paid special attention to Poso because of its volatility as a region where a smoldering sectarian conflict has attracted jihadists from various areas in Indonesia and abroad. They have made the rugged, isolated region an ideal training ground.

In a show of support for the IS purge at home, the Indonesian Military (TNI) will embark on a combat exercise in the jungle of Poso, despite criticisms from human rights groups.

The Financial Transactions and Analysis Centre (PPATK) report that Indonesian extremists have received a significant amount of cash from their Australian brethren was a big surprise for both Jakarta and Canberra because Australia is not a country commonly thought to be a terrorist haven.

The arrested suspects have given an early glimpse of the danger they pose to Indonesia, the world's largest majority-Muslim country where an estimated 90 per cent of its 250 million population embrace Islam.

The three people arrested in Malang admitted to have actively sought new recruits, while the five alleged jihadists arrested around Jakarta on Monday are fundraisers, a propagandist, a recruit dispatcher and an operative who provided accommodations before the recruits left for the Middle East.

Indonesia has been seen as fertile ground for Islamic extremism largely because of its pervasive poverty and growing religious conservatism.

The recent news that Turkish authorities detained 16 Indonesian nationals, many of whom are women and children, wanting to go to Syria via Turkey has only now awakened Indonesia about how IS ideology has captivated its citizens.

It came less than a month after another 16 Indonesians taking part in a holiday to Turkey "disappeared" and were believed to have gone to Syria. The National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT) put the number of Indonesians who have joined IS at 500, some of whom which have been reported killed.

But other estimates have given far higher figures. In a recent interview with Quran Tempo, terrorism observer Al Chaidar made a chilling revelation: about 2 million Indonesians have pledged allegiance to IS. He claimed he obtained the information from IS supporters who have returned from Iraq.

In 2013, 56 Indonesians from various Islamic organisations left for Iraq and joined IS and since then 16 have returned home and recruited new supporters in their respective areas, according to Al Chaidar. Authorities have sounded the alarm over the rapid IS penetration in Indonesia.

The latest most worrying news is that local militant groups sympathetic to IS came together just two weeks ago and declared Jamaah Ansharut Daulah as their umbrella organisation.

"Indonesian ISIS [another name for IS] supporters have just come together as one," warned As'ad Said Ali, a former member of the State Intelligence Agency.

According to BNPT chairman Saud Usman Nasution, at least eight Islamic mass organisations have become supporters of IS ideology. He identified the organisations as Jamaah Ansharut Tauhid, the East Indonesia Mujahidin, West Indonesia Mujahidin, the Bima Group, the Indonesian Islamic State of Banten, the Jundullah Militia, Tauhid wal Jihad and Al-Muhajirun.

The Jakarta Police have deployed an additional 750 officers in terrorism-prone areas in Greater Jakarta in anticipation of a backlash following the recent crackdown on IS supporters.

The government should take all the necessary measures to stop citizens from joining the terrorist group, which distorts the teaching of Islam to justify brutality. While the IS issue needs a quick and effective response, it is a shame that top government bureaucrats and the National Police remain divided on the proper legal basis they need to fight IS at home.

A differing opinion on the highest level has been displayed by Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Tedjo Edhy Purdijatno and Vice President Jusuf Kalla.

Tedjo insisted that the government would issue a government regulation in lieu of law to tackle the IS issue effectively, but Kalla argued that the existing terrorism law would do.

It is mindboggling that the government is also indecisive about enforcing the existing laws that allow the state to mete out severe penalties to Indonesian citizens who join forces to undermine the legitimate government of a friendly state.

Not only does the debate among decision makers in the administration of President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo slow the pace of the war against IS in this country, but it also confuses the public about the state's strategy to curb the terrorist organisation.

No less important than the use of repressive measures is the implementation of effective information campaigns aimed at dissuading people from going to Syria and Iraq to join forces with IS, or simply to work for the money the recruiters promise.

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