Indonesia: Jemaah Militants Now Infiltrating Political Parties

Ronna Nirmala
Indonesia: Jemaah Militants Now Infiltrating Political Parties Police escort a man arrested in in East Java province for alleged ties to the Islamic State extremist group, upon his arrival at Jakarta’s Soekarno-Hatta International Airport, March 18, 2021.

Suspected members of the group behind the 2002 Bali bombings have infiltrated political parties so they can spread their radical beliefs, an anti-terrorism official said Friday, three months after authorities revealed that alleged Jemaah Islamiyah operatives had penetrated state institutions.

Irfan Idris, head of de-radicalization at the National Counter-Terrorism Agency, came out with this days after police arrested a member of a newly established party on suspicion of being involved with Jemaah Islamiyah. Authorities here blamed JI, the Southeast Asian affiliate of al-Qaeda, for carrying out Indonesia’s deadliest-ever terror attack 20 years ago.

This was the second such arrest since November.

“There’s is a shift in their strategy,” Irfan told reporters.

“No political party is founded to groom terrorists, but please be aware that [members] will join through certain people who in the end will undermine the institutions, the organization, and the religion,” he said.

Irfan said the suspects had joined state institutions, political parties or socio-religious organizations not to launch terror attacks in the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation, but to slowly instill their ideologies in colleagues.

Earlier this week, national police chief Gen. Listyo Sigit Prabowo said the government planned to double the number of personnel at the Densus 88 anti-terror unit to deal with these new challenges, and strengthen the fight against terrorism, including prevention and law enforcement.

“In line with the increasing complex challenges, the government has agreed to the proposal to expand the structure of the Densus 88,” Listyo said on Wednesday.

‘Terror activities are against religion’

The suspect arrested last week who is a political party member was one of three alleged JI members nabbed at the time in Bengkulu, a province on Sumatra Island.

The person, whom police identified only by the initial R., is a member of the Ummah Party, officials said. The party was founded last year by veteran politician Amien Rais, a former speaker of the People’s Consultative Assembly.

Ummah Party spokesman Mustofa Nahrawardaya said the suspect had joined the party only three weeks before his arrest.

The man was a well-known preacher in Bengkulu and a member of several Islamic organizations, Mustofa told local media.

In November, police similarly arrested Farid Ahmad Okbah, chairman of the little-known Indonesian People’s Calling Party, on suspicion that he headed JI’s council of advisors.

Ahsin Sakho Muhammad, a member of the fatwa commission at the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), a semi-official group of Muslim scholars, insisted that no mainstream Islamic groups supported terror activities. The council had issued a fatwa against terrorism back in 2004, he noted.

Ahsin made the remarks after reports emerged that two of the three JI suspects arrested in Bengkulu were MUI members.

“BNPT is welcome to investigate,” Ahsin told CNN Indonesia, “MUI does not condone [terrorism] in any way. Terror activities are against religion.”

Meanwhile, a legislator for the Islamic Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) challenged the counter-terrorism agency to prove its claims.

“Just give us facts. If they joined [a party], find out the motives, whether they are repentant or just masquerading,” Mardani Ali Sera said, according to CNN Indonesia.

In November, senior BNPT official Ahmad Nurwakhid said JI militants had tried to infiltrate the Indonesian military, police and government ministries for more than a decade.

Police have arrested 876 members of the group since the 2002 Bali bombings, which killed 202 people, police said in October. But the number of JI members and sympathizers is estimated to be 10 times as many, with 67 JI-affiliated religious schools suspected to be breeding grounds for militants, they warned.

JI, which was outlawed in 2008, has not staged a major attack since 2011.

And yet, police said they arrested 339 suspected militants in 2021, an increase of 56 percent from the previous year. Police also killed 18 militant suspects last year.


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