Indonesia’s New Anti-terror Chief Warns of Militant Activity during Pandemic

Ronna Nirmala
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200623_ID_BoyRafliAmar_1000.jpg Boy Rafli Amar, the then-spokesman the Indonesian National Police, speaks during a news conference in Jakarta about the killing of Santoso, who led the militant group known as the Eastern Indonesia Mujahidin, July 19, 2016.

Indonesia’s new counterterrorism chief sought congressional backing Tuesday for a 65 percent hike in his agency’s budget, saying it needed more cash and resources as he warned that the militant threat remained active during the coronavirus pandemic.

The National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT) was looking to increase its 2021 budget by 361.6 billion rupiah (U.S. $25.5 million) and hire more staff because militants were trying to expand their ranks and plot attacks, Boy Rafli Amar told a hearing of a House of Representatives committee that oversees security affairs.

“Radical groups are still actively carrying out recruitment propaganda both online and offline during the COVID-19 pandemic,” the BNPT chief said. “We are seeing today the rampant abuse of the cyberspace to spread the ideology of terrorism.

“To be able to achieve the performance targets that have been set, BNPT has submitted a proposal for additional funding in 2021 to the finance minister and the head of Bappenas [National Development Planning Agency] in the amount of 361.6 billion rupiah,” he said.

The additional funding would be used for surveillance, deradicalization, victim identification, and to strengthen the center for analysis and crisis control, Boy said.

The extra money would come on top of 551 billion rupiah ($38.9 million) already allocated for the agency under the 2021 budget.

Boy said he also planned to appoint three new deputies to make the agency more effective.

“If this is approved, BNPT will have six deputies – one each in charge of policy systems, counter-radicalism, national preparedness, deradicalization, law enforcement and monitoring, and international cooperation,” he said.

Boy, who was sworn in as BNPT chief on May 6, has said he would focus on domestic and foreign cooperation to combat terrorism because it is an organized transnational crime.

He previously held key posts at the national police including as its public relations officer, the deputy head of the National Police Education and Training Institute, chief negotiator at Densus 88 and as police chief in Papua, a restive region in far-eastern Indonesia.

During Tuesday’s congressional hearing, Boy named Central Sulawesi, West Nusa Tenggara (NTB) and East Java provinces as among the locations most prone to militant activities.

Since January, at least 84 people have been monitored and investigated across Indonesia over suspected militant recruitment activities, Boy testified. But he did not say if any of those people had been arrested.

Meanwhile, national police spokesman Brig. Gen. Argo Yuwono said members of the elite anti-terrorism unit Densus 88 had carried out arrests since the start of the year, but he declined to give more information.

On Monday, police arrested three suspected militants in Kampar, a regency in Riau province, Argo told BenarNews. He did not name the suspects or release details about their alleged crimes.

On June 1, a man armed with a sword and carrying the Islamic State (IS) group’s black flag killed a police officer and seriously wounded another in South Kalimantan province before he was fatally shot. The suspect, identified as Ana Abdurrahman, torched a police car and then went after officers during the pre-dawn attack at a police station in South Daha, police said.

Militants find opportunities

Adhe Bhakti, a researcher at the Center for Radicalism and Deradicalization Studies, a Jakarta think-tank, said militant groups in Indonesia had different views about the pandemic. Some saw the pandemic as an opportunity to expand their influence through social activities while others viewed it as punishment sent by Allah to their enemies, he said.

“Other groups see the pandemic not only as a blessing but are actively waging a war to take advantage of the government’s moment of weakness,” Adhe told BenarNews.

Writing in The Diplomat on Tuesday, security analysts Zachary Abuza and Alif Satria focused on efforts by three militant groups – Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD), Eastern Indonesia Mujahideen (MIT) and Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) to take advantage of the pandemic.

JI, the group responsible for 2002 Bali bombings, was most poised exploit COVID-19, the analysts wrote. While JAD suffered from “intra-organizational discord,” JI’s “structure is more resilient and better able to implement a pandemic response.”

The pair said MIT, on the other hand, had conducted four attacks in Central Sulawesi despite losing members and it saw the pandemic as an opportunity to attack the government.

“[M]IT has been doggedly resilient since the government declared its destruction in mid-2016, and COVID-19 has played into their resilience,” Abuza and Alif wrote.

“As the current MIT chief, Ali Kalora, told his supporters: ‘Taghut [tyrants] will fall because of the coronavirus and the war in the near future.’”


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