In Indonesia, 11 Percent of Former Terrorists Are Repeat Offenders, Study Says

Arie Firdaus
200904-ID-terrorism-recividism-offender1000 Indonesian police escort radical cleric Aman Abdurrahman to court in Jakarta, Feb. 15, 2018.

The Indonesian government needs to improve its terrorist rehabilitation and deradicalization programs because 11 percent of terror convicts in the country become repeat offenders, said a report released by the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC) on Friday.

The government needs to act urgently because as many as 100 people imprisoned for terrorism-related offenses are released each year, with the number set to rise to 150 in 2021, the Jakarta-based think tank said.

It said it had examined the cases of 94 repeat offenders among a total of 825 men and women convicted of terrorism and released between 2002 and May 2020.

“Most were re-arrested after committing a second terrorist crime, but we have also included those who joined ISIS in Syria after their release and a few others who might not fit a strict definition of recidivism but who clearly re-engaged with violent extremism,” the report said.

“Together the individuals in these categories total 94, which then as a percentage of the 825 tried and released produces a recidivism rate of 11.39 per cent,” IPAC’s report said.

Among the main reasons freed terror convicts reoffend are that they are surrounded by a high level of radicalism in prison, or they are in close contact with a militant family member after their release, or there is a powerful ideological movement that looks attractive, the report said.

“The challenge is to understand the factors that push ex-prisoners back into extremist activity, despite their full knowledge of the consequences of getting caught,” said IPAC director Sidney Jones.

The report said Indonesia’s National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT) has downplayed the problem of freed terror convicts going back to extremism. The agency’s director said in 2018 that Indonesia had only three repeat terror offenders since 2002 and attributed this low number to the success of its deradicalization program.

However, IPAC said BNPT’s deradicalization programs were “largely ineffective,” partly because they mostly draw in prisoners who have already decided on their own to disengage.

“The BNPT programs are voluntary, and many prisoners are not interested,” IPAC’s report said.

“They also focus more on instilling loyalty to the Indonesian state than on giving prisoners, while still in detention or after release, new goals, marketable skills or access to new networks.”

BNPT and police officials declined to comment on IPAC’s report, saying that they had not seen it.

The terror progression

The freed terror convicts who were among the first to be drawn back to extremism were those involved in the first Bali bombings in 2002, which killed 202 people; the 2004 Australian embassy bombing; and some early failed and foiled plots, the IPAC report said.

When these convicts returned to the fold of extremism the second time, they were drawn to one of three groups - the Eastern Indonesia Mujahideen (MIT) in Poso, a terror training camp in Indonesia’s westernmost province of Aceh in 2010, and the so-called Islamic State (IS).

The three groups are associated with 85 percent of repeat offenses, IPAC said.

“That there were only four cases of recidivism before 2010 can be explained at least in part by the fact that there was no strong pull factor between the Bali bombs and the Aceh camp,” the report added.

The al-Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiyah was responsible for the 2002 Bali bombings. But the 2010 Aceh terror camp had only tenuous links with JI.  The Brussels-based think tank International Crisis Group said in a 2010 report that Aceh represented “a major mutation in Indonesian jihadi ranks” because the extremists there rejected JI.

IS later took over the space once dominated by JI and other al-Qaeda affiliated groups, said a 2016 Time magazine report which cited Rohan Gunaratna, who was then head of the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.

Stricter law, more problems?

Meanwhile, an anti-terrorism law Indonesia passed in 2018 has allowed the police to conduct “preventive strikes” against suspected militants.

This has resulted in the arrests of hundreds of suspects, and the incarceration of those who were non-violent participants in extremism. Those with lesser offenses harbored fugitives or withheld information or just attended meetings, the IPAC report said.

Many of those imprisoned for these non-violent offenses received short sentences of two to three years, IPAC said.

“This means the prisons have become even more of a revolving door for convicted terrorists than they have been in the past, with individuals released after minimal in-prison counseling programs and with almost no capacity on the part of the government for sustained post-release monitoring,” the report said.

Therefore, Indonesia needs to closely monitor the activities of people arrested in 2018 under the new anti-terrorism law because their sentences will soon end and they will be freed, IPAC said.

“It will be important to assess whether after such short sentences, the released prisoners are coming back more ideologically committed, less committed or the same as when they went in,” the report said.

“If incarceration produces no positive change, then it might be worth considering non-custodial sentences, but with reporting requirements, for relatively minor and non-violent crimes.”


Add your comment by filling out the form below in plain text. Comments are approved by a moderator and can be edited in accordance with RFAs Terms of Use. Comments will not appear in real time. RFA is not responsible for the content of the postings. Please, be respectful of others' point of view and stick to the facts.