Indonesian Film ‘Jihad Selfie’ Explores IS Efforts to LureTeens

Ismira Lutfia Tisnadibrata
160729_ID_JihadSelfie3-620.jpg Teuku Akbar Maulana hugs his father in a scene in “Jihad Selfie.”
Courtesy of Noor Huda Huda Ismail

Close relations between parents and children are powerful tools in the struggle to prevent young people from being lured to join the so-called Islamic State (IS) group, according to an Indonesian teen who knows firsthand.

Teuku Akbar Maulana, a 17-year-old from Aceh province, was on the verge of joining IS, but communication with his parents was one of the main reasons he chose to stay away from the militant group in the end.

“I backed down from joining [IS] because I am close with my parents. I often have heart-to-heart talks with them,” Akbar said during a discussion after the recent screening in Jakarta of a 50-minute documentary film, titled “Jihad Selfie.”

The term became popular last year when IS fighters uploaded photos of themselves brandishing weapons or posing in front of tanks or armored vehicles to justify their decisions to family and friends back home. Such “selfies” went viral over social media and serve as a recruitment tool to convince young people that it’s cool to join IS, according to Indonesian security experts.

Akbar’s story is one of many told in the film by local terrorism expert Noor Huda Ismail. The pair answered questions following a screening in Jakarta on July 24.

Saved from crossing over

Part of the film tells the story of a special bond between the two and how they met in the Turkish town of Kayseri two years ago. Akbar was studying there through a Turkish government high-school level scholarship and Noor Huda was on a sightseeing break while attending a conference.

Upon learning that they were both Indonesians, they struck up a conversation during which Akbar revealed that he was waiting for someone to pick him up and take him “across.”

“What he actually meant was across the border to Syria,” said Noor Huda, who is working on his doctoral dissertation about gender and masculinity in terrorism at Australia’s Monash University.

Noor Huda also runs a program to reintegrate former convicted terrorists and ex-combatants, who fought with militant groups abroad, through hiring them as workers at steak houses in Solo and Semarang, Central Java.

Akbar, who knew nothing about Noor Huda’s background as a terrorism expert, showed him a Facebook conversation he was having with a friend, Yazid. A teenager from Surabaya, East Java, Yazid studied in the same school as Akbar before joining IS, and invited Akbar to join him.

Noor Huda said he could not say much to Akbar at that time, but gave the teenager his contact number. Akbar lucked out when his friend stood him up. The film revealed that Yazid later died in Syria.

Akbar soon got in touch with Noor Huda and their friendship grew. Noor Huda said he was then compelled to make the documentary to show that the accepted norm of radicalized Islamic ideology is not the only route that IS uses to recruit members.

Teuku Akbar Maulana (left) and Noor Huda Ismail answer questions following the screening of the documentary film “Jihad Selfie,” in Jakarta, July 24, 2016. [Ismira Lutfia Tisnadibrata/BeritaBenar]


Noor Huda’s film, which won’t be released commercially but has been shown in limited screenings since he finished his documentary last year, reveals the angst that many teens experience as they search for their identity. The film’s message is that the lack of a warm, close relationship with parents can play a role in some becoming radicalized.

Yazid and a teen from East Java, Wildan Mulkholad, who was killed in a suicide bomb attack in Iraq in 2014, were not close to their parents, especially their fathers, Akbar and Noor Huda said.

“The film is actually about parenting,” Noor Huda said, adding he dedicated it to his two children.

Akbar said he was lured by Yazid’s Facebook photo in which he clutched an AK-47 that garnered a lot of “likes.” He also said that Yazid talked him into joining IS by telling him that life was good because he received an allowance and could eat kebab every day.

“Actually there were bad stories about IS, but there were also those on social media,” Akbar said.

‘Just a meatball seller’

Yazid was known as a loner and often spent hours in an internet café, playing online games and interacting on social media.

Another character who appears in the film is Fauzan Anshori, an IS supporter in Indonesia and founder of an Islamic boarding school in West Java.

In the film, he acknowledges that social media can be powerful in disseminating propaganda.

“I have no problem that it was the Jews who created Facebook and WhatsApp. Alhamdulillah [Thank God] they created them for us to use,” says Fauzan, who would die of natural causes at a hospital in West Java in December 2015.

Other scenes tell the story of Ahmad Junaidi, who is serving a three-year prison term for joining IS. A meatball seller in Malang, East Java, he was sentenced after Densus 88, the country’s anti-terrorism squad, arrested him in March 2015.

“Ahmad Junaidi is more like a victim of radicalization. He was just a meatball seller. But those who recruited him and provided financial means [to go to Syria] were never arrested,” Noor Huda said.

According to Noor Huda, telling these stories can help prevent Indonesians from being lured to join IS. In his eyes, no one is born a terrorist.

“Terrorism is not just a security issue but also a social issue,” he said.

A scene is “Jihad Selfie” shows young IS recruits. [Courtesy of Noor Huda Huda Ismail]

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