Muhammad Bahrunnaim Anggih Tamtomo (alias Bahrun Naim) was killed in a U.S. airstrike on June 8 as he was riding a motorcycle in Ash Shafa, Syria, about two years after counter-terror forces began tracking him.
After the Islamic State (IS) was defeated in its Syrian capital of Raqqa, Bahrun Naim moved to the hilly and desert region in southern Syria inhabited traditionally by the Bedouin and conflict-displaced Druze. A U.S. counter-terrorism operation killed the Indonesian mastermind of planning, preparing and executing terror attacks in Malaysia and Indonesia.
Known as Bahrun Naim, Abu Rayyan or Abu Aishah within his network, his specialty was to recruit individuals including friends and students whom he motivated to mount attacks.
Although he appeared in a few photographs cradling a weapon, Bahrun Naim was not a frontline fighter. With a degree in informatics engineering, he developed the ability to communicate discreetly using a range of platforms including encrypted platforms to radicalize and mobilize Southeast Asians to attack their own citizens and governments.
Unknown to many, Bahrun Naim attempted to seed an IS capability in Southern Thailand where Malaysian and Indonesian IS operators attempted to source weapons from Runda Kumpulan Kecil, the most violent threat group in Thailand.
Together with one of his two wives, Rafiqa Hanum, Bahrun Naim ran a travel agency to move Southeast Asians to fight for IS. Although IS external operations wing was reluctant to support his projects, he built a support and operational infrastructure from Indonesia to Turkey, the gateway to Iraq and Syria.
Bahrun Naim had survived as other IS Southeast Asian masterminds in Iraq and Syria were killed on the battlefield and off.
Salim Mubarok at-Tamimi (alias Abu Jandal al-Yemeni al Indonesi) was killed in a suicide mission in Mosul, Iraq on Nov. 5, 2016. Muhammad Wanndy Mohammad Jedi (alias Abu Hamzah al Fateh) was killed in Raqqa, Syria, on April 29, 2017, and Bahrumsyah Mennor Usman was killed at an IS meeting by a U.S. air strike in Hajin, north of the Syrian city of Abu Kamal on April 19, 2018.
In addition, many death claims surfaced, including one where Bahrun Naim faked his to evade the coalition hunting high-value targets.
While Abu Jandal and Bahrumsyah were not slain in targeted killings, Wanndy and Bahrun Naim were killed in successful counter-terror operations.
From Solo to Syria
Bahrun Naim’s mastery as an online recruiter was enabled by his upbringing and environment. Born in Pekalongan, Central Java, on Sept. 6 1983, he was raised in Solo, the nerve center of Islamic radicalism in Indonesia.
As a senior high school student, Bahrun Naim joined Hizbut Tahrir (HT). He spoke Javanese, Indonesian and Arabic and his recruits came from HT and Tim Hisbah, a splinter of Jamaah Ansharut Tauhid.
After qualifying as an informatics engineer from Surakarta State University (UNS), he ran an Internet cafe in Surakarta and sold flags decorated with Islamic symbols.
Believing that women are obligated to wage “jihad,” Bahrun Naim taught archery to Nurul Azmi At Tibyani, who was later imprisoned for involvement in the hacking of investment companies. Bahrun Naim got to know her through his friend Fuad Zaki, a student of Abdul Rochim Ba’asyir, the son of the Jemaah Islamiyah leader Abu Bakr Bashir. In addition to two archery lessons, Bahrun Naim gave her five arrows and a bow so she could practice in Jatipadang, Jakarta.
Arrested in November 2010 by Densus 88 for possession of ammunition in his home, Bahrun Naim was sentenced by Solo’s District Court to 2½ years in prison in June 2011. Police seized 547 rounds for an AK-56, 32 9 mm rounds, compact discs, jihad books, a laptop and 6 computer hard disks. Although the court found insufficient evidence to pursue terrorism charges, ammunition supplied by him is suspected to have been used by Abdullah Sunata’s men to assassinate police officers in Purworejo, Central Java.
Following his release from prison he married two women and with their children relocated to Syria.
The first Southeast Asian terrorist to use virtual currency, Bahrun Naim used bitcoins extensively.
He was also the first Southeast Asian terrorist to use basic artificial intelligence to disseminate terrorist content to future attackers and supporters. In April 2017, Bahrun Naim used an internet bot in his website “wahaimuslimin.wordpress.com,” allowing visitors an interactive and instant platform to communicate with him.
Through his blog, “Bahrun Naim: Analis, Strategi dan Kontra Intelijen” (Bahrun Naim: Analysis, Strategy and Counter Intelligence), Bahrun Naim disseminated tradecraft manuals including how to become a hacker and how to spy. He posted manuals “How to Make a Bomb in 10 Minutes,” and “Make Explosive Materials in Your Kitchen.” His “Nuclear for Dummies” inspired Indonesian terrorist Young Farmer to build a “dirty bomb” aimed at Indonesian targets.
Within a restricted Telegram group called “Explosive and Electrochemistry Division,” managed by Ibadurrahman (alias Ali Robani alias Ibad), Bahrun Naim acted as a coach, showing others how to make a bomb and use it effectively, how to launder money and how to make online purchases by stealing credit card numbers.
Ibad, Yus Karman and Giyantoalias Gento planned to bomb the Pasar Kliwon police post, a Christian church and Confucian temple on Indonesian Independence Day, Aug. 17, 2015. Meanwhile, Members of Laskar Hisbah in Solo were co-opted to join IS by Bahrun Naim.
Katibah Gonggong Rebus (KGR), a cell in Batam led by Gigih Rahmat Dewa, planned a rocket attack on Marina Bay Sands, Singapore’s iconic hotel, in October 2015. The cell hosted two Uyghur foreign fighters including a suicide bomber.
A schoolmate of Bahrun Naim and former member of the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), Arif Hidayatullah (alias Abu Musab) planned to launch a series of attacks. His targets included Jewish and Shia communities, then-Jakarta Gov. Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (alias Ahok), Indonesian National police leaders and foreigners in November and December 2015. Bahrun Naim funded the planned attacks using bank transfers.
On July 5, 2016, Nur Rohman blew himself up while riding a motorcycle into the Solo Police headquarters. The attack injured a policeman who tried to stop him. Bahrun Naim used Paypal to fund this attack. Nur Rohman was connected to other Bahrun Naim associates – Ibad, Abu Musab, and Gigih – but government officials failed to detect and disrupt the plot.
A former maid in Singapore and Taiwan, Dian Yulia Novi was recruited by Nur Solikin who later married her and planned multiple attacks. They included an attack against security guards at the Indonesian Presidential Palace on Dec. 11, 2016. Backup targets included the security detail guarding Ahok and Police Mobile Brigade officers who prayed at the Brimob Headquarters Mosque in Depok. Dian and Nur Solikin were coached via Telegram by Bahrun Naim.
On June 25, 2016, Ivan Armadi Hasugian stabbed a priest in Medan church and carried a home-made bomb which did not explode. Ivan copied the modus operandi of the church attack in northern France a month before when two terrorists wearing fake suicide vests took five worshippers hostage, stabbed the priest in the chest and slashed his throat in Normandy.
Young Farmer’s cell in Bandung planned to attack an armory warehouse of Pindad in Bandung, police’s mobile brigade (Brimob) headquarters in Depok, and the presidential palace in Jakarta during the Indonesia’s Independence Day in August 2017.
Joined by Anggi Indah Kusuma (alias Khanza Syafiyah al-Fuqron), and her husband Adilatur Rahman, Young Farmer extracted Thorium from petromax lamps to build a series of dirty bombs. A former maid in Hong Kong, Anggi joined seven chat groups and managed “Redaksi Khilafah” (Caliphate Editorial). Although Farmer and Anggi never met Bahrun Naim, they were inspired by content he developed and disseminated.
Managing the threat
The decapitation of Bahrun Naim demonstrates that a terrorist can run and run but not hide forever. A determined state can find, fix and finish any terrorist. Nonetheless, the elimination of Bahrun Naim has not diminished the threat. Others with similar capabilities continue to indoctrinate their own countrymen and women to kill, main and injure people and damage and destroy property. Embracing foreign ideologies, they target fellow citizens and their own motherlands.
Bahrun Naim’s case demonstrates the need for governments to work together to contain, isolate and eliminate the current and emerging transnational threat. The case also demonstrates how terrorists are leveraging new technologies from virtual currencies and a growing interest in conducting cyberattacks.
The future of managing the threat posed by terrorists and extremists will require raising a new generation of cyber warriors. In addition to enhanced surveillance and tracking, it is paramount to counter the online threat by promoting moderation, toleration and coexistence.
With terrorist groups stepping up online recruitment, governments should work with partners to develop initiatives from countering narratives to digital rehabilitation.
Within Southeast Asia and beyond, the threat has proliferated from groups to networks and the community. Regional governments will have to shift from cooperation to collaboration where military, law enforcement and national security services work together.
And, because Southeast Asian terrorists operate outside the region, governments should build partnerships with both the West and the rest of the world.
Rohan Gunaratna is professor of Security Studies at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at the Nanyang Technology University and head of the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research in Singapore.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and not of BenarNews.