Indonesia arrests dozens for alleged plot to disrupt elections

Pizaro Gozali Idrus
Indonesia arrests dozens for alleged plot to disrupt elections Indonesian soldiers from an anti-terror squad stand in formation during roll call in Banda Aceh, Feb. 2, 2022.
Chaideer Mahyuddin/AFP

An elite counterterrorism police squad in Indonesia announced on Tuesday the arrest of 59 suspected militants as part of a crackdown ahead of the February 2024 general election.

The suspects, detained from throughout the country, allegedly belonged to Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) and the Islamic State-linked Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD), according to a senior official from Densus 88, the police anti-terrorism unit.

“For them, the election is part of democracy, which they consider as sinful and unlawful,” Aswin Siregar told reporters at the national police headquarters in Jakarta. “This reminds us again that the structural network of Jemaah Islamiyah still exists and continues to be active.”

The official said a man he identified by initials, A.O., was a leader of a 40-member JAD team suspected of planning to disrupt the election. The remaining 19 suspects were allegedly members of the JI, which has been outlawed since 2008, he said.

Indonesia, home to the world’s largest Muslim population, has grappled with religious extremism for decades. Several deadly terrorist attacks have been attributed to JAD and JI members.

In May 2018, a family of suicide bombers affiliated with JAD targeted three Surabaya churches almost simultaneously, killing 13 and injuring dozens.

In January 2016, four gunmen and suicide bombers linked to JAD attacked a Starbucks cafe and a traffic police post in central Jakarta, killing four civilians and four attackers.

JI, on the other hand, is suspected to have had some ties with al-Qaeda and orchestrated some of Indonesia’s deadliest terrorist acts, including the 2002 Bali bombings, which claimed 202 lives, mostly foreign tourists.

Aswin insisted that the arrests were a preemptive measure and should not indicate that threat levels in Indonesia had increased significantly.

Rakyan Adibrata, a security analyst with the International Association for Counterterrorism and Security Professionals, expressed doubts about JI attacking during the election, but highlighted the persistent threat from JAD.

“JAD has an anti-democracy agenda, and there was talk of them planning attacks during the 2019 election,” he told BenarNews.

In contrast, he said, “JI is adopting narratives that appeal to society, such as enforcing Sharia law, but that doesn’t mean everyone who supports Sharia law is JI.”

Sharia refers to a body of religious laws associated with Islam, often denoting a stricter interpretation of Islamic jurisprudence.

Siswo Mulyartono, a researcher at the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC), a Jakarta-based think-tank, said both groups have grown weaker in recent years.

“Their leaders have been arrested, and many have pledged loyalty to Indonesia and back the government’s deradicalization program,” he told BenarNews.

‘Poll violence’

Faith-based groups in Indonesia have historically wielded political and electoral influence. 

In 2019, Prabowo Subianto, running as an opposition candidate against President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, received support from several faith-based Muslim groups.

They responded to the Prabowo campaign’s call for protests against the results of the election won by Jokowi. Subsequent clashes with security forces caused scores of casualties and injuries.

Human rights groups such as Amnesty International criticized the Jokowi administration’s handling of the protest. 

Moving forward, an IPAC report released on Oct. 20 said Muslim groups in Indonesia are unlikely to have any significant impact on the 2024 presidential elections, assessing that the risks of a repeat of protests by faith-based groups are low. 

The report found that these groups are no longer under a common umbrella and have responded differently to a deradicalization program launched by Jokowi, who appointed Prabowo as defense minister in 2019.

Two of the groups, namely Islamic Defenders Front and Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia, have toned down their political rhetoric, the report found. 

Prabowo himself abandoned the support of these groups, aligning closely with his former rival and even naming Jokowi’s son as his running mate.

The other two candidates, former Central Java Gov. Ganjar Pranowo and ex-Jakarta Gov. Anies Baswedan, have not attracted support among the right-wing religious groups, it said.


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