Think-Tank: Support for IS Extremist Group Declining in Indonesia

Riza Chadijah
Think-Tank: Support for IS Extremist Group Declining in Indonesia Police escort Islamic cleric Aman Abdurrahman (center) from the South Jakarta District Court after he was sentenced to death for his role in a 2016 suicide bombing, June 22, 2018.

Support for the Islamic State militant group is on a downward slope in Indonesia and its main local affiliate has become “largely inactive,” yet local extremists still are splintering into new cells, according to a think-tank report released Thursday.

The arrests of some 70 suspected leaders among pro-IS Indonesian groups and the defeat of IS in Iraq and Syria have diminished its allure and severely weakened it, according to the study by the Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC).

“Support for Islamic State is declining among Indonesian extremists, and Jemaah Ansharul Daulah (JAD), once the largest of the country’s many pro-ISIS groups, has become largely inactive,” IPAC said in a statement accompanying the report, using another acronym for IS.

“At the same time, a process of regrouping and splintering is producing new cells, and some Indonesians believe their oath of loyalty to ISIS leaders obliges them to continue fighting in any way they can.”

IPAC rated the threat IS current threat as “manageable” although, it said, there was “no end in sight to the emergence of small, poorly trained groups with the intention to do harm.”

“There are no extremist groups operating in Indonesia today that present a serious threat to Indonesian stability or that are beyond the capacity of the police to manage,” IPAC director Sidney Jones said.

Defections of top leaders along with realization by extremists that the cost of supporting IS outweighed the benefits have weakened the organization. In addition, COVID-19 pandemic travel restrictions also contributed to JAD’s decline, IPAC said.

“A few clerics are still preaching the ISIS line but lack the charisma of their imprisoned colleagues,” it said. “Many former prisoners have declared their allegiance to the Indonesian state and are now engaged in a range of economic activities.”

When contacted on Thursday, Brig. Gen. Ahmad Nurwakhid, director of prevention at the National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT), said he could not comment immediately on IPAC’s findings.

“I haven’t read the report, so I can’t say much,” he told BenarNews.

He noted that BNPT continued to contain the development of radical groups in Indonesia, adding that de-radicalization programs have been effective.

“Islamic boarding schools and religious schools are important places to shares ideologies. Because of that, efforts to contain radical ideologies must be carried out from an early age in these institutions,” Nurwakhid said.

According to the Center for Radicalism and Deradicalization Studies (PAKAR), another Indonesian think-tank, JAD has branches in at least 13 Indonesian provinces but has fewer than 1,000 members.

The group has had no overall leader after Aman Abdurrahman, who founded JAD, was sentenced to death by a local court in 2018 for his role in a January 2016 terrorist attack in Jakarta.

Earlier this month, police in Makassar, South Sulawesi, shot and killed two JAD suspects allegedly linked to Indonesian suicide bombers who attacked a church in the southern Philippines in 2019. Officers also arrested more than a dozen others from the same house.

Police said the dead suspects and their relatives had tried to travel to Syria in 2016 to join IS, but were stopped at the airport in Jakarta.

Last June, Boy Rafli Amar, the incoming chief of the BNPT, sought congressional backing for a 65 percent hike in his agency’s budget. He said the agency needed more cash and resources, as he warned that militants were looking to increase recruitment during the coronavirus pandemic.

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

‘Terrorism has not gone away’

IPAC, in its latest report, warned about the emergence of small extremist cells.

“[T]errorism has not gone away, and there will be ongoing efforts of small cells to regroup, recruit and regenerate with the aim of conducting jihad operations. The likelihood of arrest is not necessarily a deterrent,” according to an excerpt from the report. “On the contrary, weakness can be an incentive to attack, as would-be fighters heed the slogan, ‘Better to be a lion for a day than a sheep for the rest of your life.’”

It said case studies showed that it is easy for new cells to form – but most are weak and their members have few skills, resources or strategy.

The new cells can be triggered by the loss of leaders or the collapse of established organizations. Cells may also form as individuals search for material on the Internet and become attracted to pro-IS videos and other propaganda, IPAC said.

200 arrests in 2020

Of the more than 200 terrorist suspects arrested in 2020, more than half were affiliated with pro-IS cells that had no connection to either JAD or the Eastern Indonesian Mujahideen (MIT), a pro-IS group based in Poso regency in Central Sulawesi province, the report said.

Police said MIT militants killed four Salvation Army followers – including beheading one victim – and torched their homes during an attack of a remote village in Sigi regency in Central Sulawesi in November.

IPAC argued that recent attacks blamed on MIT were not evidence of increased strength, but of weakness.

By this month, MIT was down to 11 members equipped with one rifle, one pistol and a few hundred bullets, according to the report.

This “may explain why several of their attacks have been with machetes,” it said. “It also may explain why police remain such a top target, because a successful attack could not only fell an enemy but gain access to a weapon.”

Meanwhile, with about 250 people convicted of terrorism expected to be released this year, there are concerns that they will return to their old networks.

IPAC said while regeneration remains a concern, some local initiatives have succeeded in replacing pro-IS leaders at extremist schools and mosques with neutral or anti-IS clerics.

“In such cases, it takes constant nurturing and attention and sometimes significant outlay of funds to prevent backsliding, and it is always possible for radical teachers displaced from one institution to simply move to another a short distance away,” the report said.

IPAC recommended that the government map locations where known extremists, convicted terrorists and ex-prisoners send their children to school and ensure that teachers and teaching materials have been thoroughly vetted.

Last year, security analysts told BenarNews that IS members were stepping up recruitment efforts in Indonesia.

In September, Jones said that the IS threat persisted in Indonesia. She noted then that several pro-IS cells were active in Java, Sumatra and Sulawesi, as was the pro-IS Eastern Indonesia Mujahideen, or MIT, in the jungles of Poso.

A PAKAR senior research, meanwhile, discussed efforts by his group to track Jamaah Ansyaarut Khalifah (JAK), which is active in the Javanese cities of Solo and Bekasi, and Palembang, a city in southern Sumatra.

“This moderate group has hardly ever engaged in violence or planned attacks but that does not mean they are harmless,” Muhammad Taufiqurrohman told BenarNews.

“They have been focused on da’wah [preaching] and recruitment, but now they are drawing up plans to send jihadists to the Philippines. In the long run, JAK is more dangerous because it is organized and has a wider network.”


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