In 2011, the nation got several wake-up calls that radicalism was still alive in Indonesia despite the arrests and convictions of key terrorists the year before.
“We’ve had it coming,” terrorism expert Noor Huda Ismail told the Jakarta Globe recently.
The first sobering wake-up call came in March. That month, mysterious packages containing explosives in the guise of books were delivered to several selected targets, including a co-founder of the Liberal Islam Network (JIL), Ulil Abshar Abdalla, as well as rock star Ahmad Dani.
Ulil’s bomb package was found first, but it exploded when a police officer attempted to defuse it before the bomb squad arrived. The officer lost his hand in the explosion and two other officers were injured.
The people responsible for the book bombs were arrested in Aceh a month later, following the discovery of five bombs near a Catholic church in Serpong, Tangerang, that were scheduled to explode on Good Friday.
The ringleader of the book bomb plot, Pepi Fernando, 32, was not connected to any known radical groups in Indonesia, such as the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), the Indonesian Mujahideen Council (MMI) or Jamaah Anshorut Tauhid(JAT), the terrorist organization of hard-line cleric Abu Bakar Bashir,
Pepi was, however, known as an activist for the Indonesian Islamic State (NII) movement, which aspires to overthrow the secular republic in favor of an Islamic state. He had built a network of like-minded people at Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University (UIN) in Jakarta, where he had studied.
The 14 other people arrested for the attempted bombing in Serpong were also UIN alumni, all between the ages of 20 and 30 years old.
“Pepi and his group learned to make bombs on the Internet,” Noor Huda said. “They determined their targets by Googling, for instance, ‘Indonesian Jews.’ ”
The group’s selected targets included Ahmad Dani, Yapto Soerjosoemarno, Ulil Abshar Abdalla and Gories Mere.
Rock star Dani was picked because the plotters thought he often wore clothes with Jewish symbols and characters; Japto was perceived as a Jew and a fanatic defender of the national ideology, Pancasila, which the group regarded as inspired by Hindu teachings; Ulil allegedly misinterpreted the Koran; and Gories was targeted as the former head of the National Police’s antiterror squad, Densus 88.
“[This year] marked the rise of individual jihad,” Noor Huda said. “Small groups conducted their own acts [partially] as a protest to the larger groups that went silent [after their leaders were gone].”
The country’s second wake-up call came in April when Muhammad Syarif blew himself up in a mosque at the Cirebon Police headquarters in West Java.
It was the first attack targeted at the government and at Indonesian Muslims. Syarif was the only fatality in the blast, but 30 people were injured.
As police investigators tried to pick up a lead on Syarif’s network, an Islamic boarding school in Bima district, West Nusa Tenggara, made headlines in July when a bomb detonated prematurely inside the school, killing the school’s treasurer.
In September, another suicide bombing occurred at a church in Solo, Central Java.
“We always forget that these people are radicals first, and then terrorists,” Noor Huda said, referring to Syarif and the Solo suicide bomber, Achmad Yosepa Hayat, who were both sworn in by Bashir upon joining JAT in Tasikmalaya, West Java, in 2008. “They don’t wake up one morning and realize that they’re terrorists.”
In the wake of the Solo attack, the National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT) said in October that radicals may constitute 2 percent of the country’s population, or 1.8 million people.
“That’s why the BNPT needs all departments to collaborate in the de-radicalization process,” said BNPT head Ansyaad Mbai.
The country saw how radicalism can spread among young people when a teenage student at an Islamic boarding school in Bima stabbed a police officer to death in July. The 16-year-old student, Sa’ban Uma, said police officers were infidels because they worked for a government that did not apply Shariah law.
The Islamic boarding school’s principal, Abrory M. Ali, also admitted that he had participated in a paramilitary training camp in Poso, Central Sulawesi, where he learned how to use weapons and build bombs.
He had taken over the school after his predecessor, Mujahidul Haq, a JAT member known as Uqbah, was arrested on suspicion of raising funds for a terrorist training camp in Aceh.
Intelligence analyst Al Chaidar believes that with the “major players” gone from the scene, small cells are now “competing” with each other in jihad.
“There is a contest among the small terrorist groups,” Chaidar said. “They compete in jihad, to see which group can do best.
“The small groups can be more brutal since they carry out their actions based on pure hatred. Hatred toward Christians, non-Muslims, churches, Americans or Israel, without a clear reason.”
Chaidar also said small cells were more difficult to stamp out.
“The smaller the size, the safer they are,” he said. “If they’re more mobile, they’re less likely to be discovered.”
He added that most terrorists tried to involve their own family members in their networks. “It minimizes the chance of betrayal and leaks,” he said.
Ansyaad, the BNPT head, said the country had “dozens” of such terrorist groups, consisting of “hundreds” of members.
“But out of these hundreds, we currently only have sufficient evidence to name 15 people as suspects,” he said. “These people are still at large.”
This year, security forces have arrested at least 108 suspected militants and terrorists. As of April, BNPT said it had made as many as 600 arrests, with 500 of those being prosecuted.
Noor Huda and Chaidar agreed that more government ministries, especially those for education and religious affairs, should be involved in national de-radicalization programs.
“There are more or less 127 Islamic boarding schools that could be linked to JI [Jemaah Islamiyah],” Chaidar said. “Has the government done anything to introduce multiculturalism to these schools?”
According to Sukemi, an adviser to the Ministry of Education and Culture, his ministry and the Ministry of Religious Affairs have been involved in several de-radicalization programs since 2010.
“We’ve held various workshops and seminars in universities and high schools, involving teachers, principals and students, at both private and state schools,” Sukemi said.
Dhyah Madya Ruth, the chairwoman of the Jakarta-based peace group Lazuardi Birru, is involved with the government’s de-radicalization programs, though she acknowledged that they had limited reach.
“We are still trying to refine the methods,” she said of the programs. “Every year we’re trying to find the best one.”
Aside from education, Noor Huda said the government should focus on the care and rehabilitation of convicted terrorists.
“For people like Pepi and his friends who are self-made terrorists, what happens if they all meet charismatic leaders such as Abu Tholut in prison?” he said.
Abu was sentenced in October to eight years in jail for helping establish a jihadist camp for a group that plotted attacks on foreigners and assasinations of the country’s moderate Muslims leaders.
In May, a former Australian intelligence analyst concluded that Indonesian jails often act as incubators of terrorism.
Based on interviews with 33 Indonesian terror convicts, the analyst, Dr. Carl Ungerer, found that the convicts were often placed in the same prison block where they could mingle.
He said jihadists also used prison mosques to preach and recruit new members.
Chaidar also said that many convicts use “de-radicalization” funds to “re-radicalize” others.
“They were given money to start a new life, but they use it to fund their next jihad,” he said.
Noor Huda said a revised Anti-Terrorism Law might hold the key for improvements.
“The law needs to be more rehabilitative, involving terrorist convicts and their immediate relatives,” he said. “And it needs to employ extraordinary methods because terrorism is an extraordinary crime.”