Indonesia: Dozens of Ex-Acehnese Rebels Look to Join IS

By Nurdin Hasan
150708-ID-gam-620 Members of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) arrive to hand over their weapons to European and Southeast Asian monitoring groups in Bireuen district in Aceh province, Sept. 16, 2005.

A former Indonesian guerrilla says he and 100 other ex-members of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) want to flee governmental negligence and poverty in their home province, and join the Islamic State (IS) extremist group.

"I and 100 comrades [who are] former GAM combatants are ready to go to Syria to join IS, because there is nothing else we can do in Aceh to support our families," Fakhruddin Bin Kasem, a 35-year-old former deputy commander of the guerrilla group in East Aceh Regency, Aceh province, told BenarNews.

By signing up with IS he could use his combat expertise in the group, which has proclaimed a caliphate for itself in parts of Iraq and Syria, as well as deepen his knowledge of Islam, he said.

Fakhruddin’s main reason for wanting to enlist with the jihadist group is that, according to him, Aceh’s provincial administration has neglected war veterans, even though Gov. Zaini Abdullah and Dep. Gov. Muzakir Manaf are both former GAM members.

For 30 years, Aceh was the arena of a 30-year secessionist conflict waged by GAM against the Indonesian government. The war cost 25,000 lives and ended with a peace deal signed by both sides in Helsinki in August 2005, by which Jakarta agreed to grant Aceh autonomy.

Indonesia’s western-most province also is the only one where sharia law is in force throughout.

Indonesia, meanwhile, has banned IS. The government says it is facing an emerging threat from IS recruiting Indonesian fighters for its cause via social media and other venues. Officials with the National Counterterrorism Agency estimate that between 500 and 700 Indonesians have gone to the Middle East to join IS in some kind of capacity.

Asked about the report out of Aceh, National Counter Terrorism Agency chief Saud Usman Nasution commented that it was important to look at what exactly makes such people want to become jihadists.

"Why do they want to join? It means that there are motivating factors. If it is caused by disappointment or any other reasons, we must learn the roots so we can find a solution," he told BenarNews.

No other skills but to ‘fight’

Kafrawi, a former GAM spokesman in Peureulak subdistrict, East Aceh, confirmed to BenarNews that Fakhruddin was an ex-combatant.

"The local government in Aceh is not paying attention towards former GAM fighters. Therefore, when other parties [such as IS] give hope for a better life, they are interested," Kafrawi said.

Fakhruddin said that he and most other ex-guerrillas lacked skills and education.

"I only graduated from an elementary school. I do not have any expertise. My skill is just to fight," he said.

If he and the others stayed in Aceh, they would be a burden on society, which already undervalued them for their lack of skills and schooling.

As a result, many former GAM members have taken to crime, a growing provincial problem in recent years.

"When we look for a construction job, sometimes the contractor does not [hire] us because we are former GAM combatants. People also questioned why we should become blue-collar workers while other GAM combatants have been enjoying prosperity," Fakhruddin said.

"I know that, being IS soldiers, we will be paid. Therefore, I and other GAM combatants are interested to join so we can support our families,” he added.

Daring the police

He also said he was prepared to accept the consequences of such a decision.

"If the police want to examine me, go ahead. I'm ready. Police can come to my house and see the condition of me and my family,” Fakhruddin said.

He and other GAM veterans have sought assistance and counsel from the Muslim Attorney Team (TPM), a legal aid group.

Safaruddin, head of the TPM office in Aceh, confirmed that he had met with Fakhruddin and dozens of his ex-comrades in arms.

"In every meeting, they expressed their determination to join IS for their expertise [in] war," Safaruddin told BenarNews.

"They also said that instead of committing crimes in Aceh, it’s better to fight for IS, so they can support their wives and children."


Responding to the criticism about his administration’s alleged neglect of GAM veterans, Gov. Zaini Abdullah said he had tried hard to lift them out of poverty and empower them.

"This is the problem of the country [Indonesia], so it's a pity. IS is a foreign party, and we have no relations with it," he told BenarNews.

When asked about what measures his government was taking to stop ex-guerrillas from venturing overseas to join IS, Zaini replied, "There are no concrete steps because this is Jakarta’s problem."

Terrorism expert Al Chaidar, however, expressed doubt about the claim made by Fakhruddin.

He and the other ex-GAM fighters could not be serious because it is a long and arduous process to sign up with the Islamic State, Al Chaidar said.

"To join with IS, it is important to have a similar ideology and the same concerns. GAM and IS have very different ideologies, and I am confident that former GAM members will not be able to follow IS’s ideology,” he told BenarNews.

Ismira Lutfia Tisnadibrata contributed to this report.


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