The Grand Dame of terror networks

One of several terror suspects Separiano (R) is escorted by police before his first trial in Jakarta on November 6, 2013 for alleged involvement in a plot to bomb the Myanmar embassy.

JAKARTA - The trial in Jakarta of four suspected terrorists allegedly involved in a plot to bomb the Myanmar embassy underscores the resilience of one of Indonesia's oldest terrorist networks, and its continuing ability, as a "jihad hotel", to attract recruits.

Separiano, 29, Achmad Taufiq, 22, Rokhadi, 28, and their ringleader Sigit Indrajid, 23, confessed in separate trials to having embraced Negara Islam Indonesia (NII or the Islamic State of Indonesia), also known as Darul Islam.

The movement was formed in the 1940s during Indonesia's fight for independence, and took up arms against the government to create an Islamic state, with over 10,000 rebels at its height.

It tried to assassinate Sukarno in 1957 and an ensuing government crackdown saw its leader captured in 1962 and executed, but members went underground, committing the occasional act of terror and passing on their ideology to the next generation. Its ideology was later adopted by groups like the Jemaah Islamiah.

These aspiring terrorists used the NII as a launch pad, joining it for a few years only to leave after forming their own packs.

"The younger radicals are eager for action. They join the NII, the mother of all terrorist groups, but get disgruntled with inaction so they form splinter groups to carry out immediate acts," said terrorism analyst Noor Huda Ismail, the director of the Institute for International Peace Building.

"They see the big groups as jihad hotels where they can meet fellow radicals."

Indeed, the trial which began last week showed that crippled terror networks in Indonesia are unlikely to be completely flushed out and will remain the inspiration for a small radical fringe to take up arms, though not deadly as before.

Mr Solahudin, author of the The Roots Of Terrorism In Indonesia: From NII/Darul Islam To Jemaah Islamiah, noted that about 50 out of the 79 terrorists caught in Indonesia since 2010 had links to NII.

"That clearly shows you how influential NII is till today," he told The Straits Times.

Sigit Indrajid, the ringleader of the group that targeted the Myanmar embassy, befriended fellow NII member Rokhadi on social networking sites such as Facebook shortly after joining NII.

After their online discussions, they decided to recruit fellow NII members Achmad Taufiq and Separiano. Members are recruited mostly by friends, but increasingly through social media, said Mr Solahudin.

Police cracked down on NII after discovering 15 undergraduates in Central Java brainwashed by its ideology in mid-2011.

The group is considered deeply divided but its ideology lives on. But younger radicals eager for action through NII are disappointed once they learn that they need to clear several layers before fulfilling the call to violent jihad.

Conditions include attending religious recitals and paramilitary training. "The impatient newbies ask 'When do we do the jihad?', but their leaders advise them to wait for the right time or to be chosen," said Mr Solahudin.

Pepi Fernando, who was jailed 15 years for planting a bomb near a church in Serpong, Tangerang in 2011, was among those who decided to go it alone and not wait for orders from NII, said analysts. "There is a contest among these aspiring terrorists to outdo each other," said terrorism analyst Al Chaidar.

This competition is also reflective of the lack of a central figure and strong leadership to rally splinter groups.

The influence of Abu Bakar Bashir, the firebrand cleric and spiritual leader of the Jemaah Islamiah, is waning as he serves jail time. And though the spirit of some of these "wannabe terrorists" is strong, their capabilities are still low with "so-so bombs", said Mr Noor Huda.

Ms Sidney Jones, a director of the Institute of Policy Analysis of Conflict, who described the group plotting against the Myanmar embassy as "not very bright bunglers", said it was only a matter of time before someone gets lucky with a deadly strike as bomb-making instructions are easily available online.

Crucially, critics say the continuing spate of terrorist incidents is due to a weak prison system and lack of an effective deradicalisation programme.

"The deradicalisation (programme) is being implemented but its results are not satisfactory," former police chief Timur Pradopo admitted two months ago.

Urging Parliament to strengthen deradicalisation measures, he told reporters: "Police think this is a critical measure to go hand in hand with enforcement."

zubaidah@sph.com.sg

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