Indonesian Police Catch 48 Suspected Islamic Militants in Nationwide Dragnet

Tria Dianti
Jakarta
2021-08-16
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Indonesian Police Catch 48 Suspected Islamic Militants in Nationwide Dragnet Police escort suspected militant Aris Sumarsono (alias Zulkarnaen) upon his arrival at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport near Jakarta, Dec. 16, 2020.
AP

Indonesian police said Monday they had arrested 48 suspected Islamic militants during nationwide raids in recent days as part of efforts to stop “acts of terrorism.”

The arrests of 45 suspected Jemaah Islamiyah militants and three people with alleged ties to Jamaah Ansharut Daulah took place between Thursday and Sunday in provinces across the archipelago, National Police spokesman Ahmad Ramadhan said.

JI is affiliated with al-Qaeda and JAD is a domestic network of cells linked with the so-called Islamic State extremist group.

“Densus 88 have arrested 48 suspected terrorists in 11 regions in Indonesia,” Ramadhan said in a statement, referring to the police elite anti-terror unit.

“Densus 88 continue to carry out law enforcement duties as part of efforts to prevent terrorist activities in the country … to create a sense of security and peace among the public,” said Ramadhan, who identified all of the suspects by their initials only.

During a Sunday raid at a house in Bandung, the capital of West Java province, police arrested a local JI leader identified by the initials R.H. and seized 1,540 boxes suspected of being linked to the group’s fundraising efforts, Ramadhan said.

The other arrests of JI suspects were in the provinces of Central Java, Lampung, North Sumatra, Banten, West Java, East Java, Jambi, South Sulawesi, Maluku and West Kalimantan, police said.

Meanwhile, three people arrested in East Kalimantan province were members of JAD’s social media network, Ramadhan said without providing more details.

Indonesian authorities have blamed JAD for terrorist attacks in recent years, including suicide bombings that targeted churches in Indonesia’s second largest city, Surabaya, in May 2018.

The hundreds of charity boxes that were recovered in Bandung belonged to a JI-affiliated foundation, Syam Organizer, and were used to raise funds without attracting authorities’ suspicion, Ramadhan said.

The proceeds were used to send JI members to Syria from 2013-2017, provide clean water and build houses in the war-torn Middle Eastern country, he said.

“The way they raised the funds is by circulating charity boxes in the communities, holding large religious gatherings by inviting preachers and sharing the account numbers of Syam Organizer with members of the congregations,” Ramadhan said.

In April, police raided the Syam Organizer headquarters in the Central Java city of Yogyakarta and seized a truckload of documents and equipment.

Late last year, police said JI had been raising funds by setting up more than 20,000 charity boxes at restaurants and convenience stores in seven provinces.

Future threat

Police have stepped up arrests of suspected JI members since late last year. Indonesian authorities blamed the group for a series of deadly attacks in Indonesia in the early 2000s. These included the 2002 bombings in Bali, which killed 202 people – the deadliest terrorist attack in the country’s history.

Last November and December, police announced the arrest of Aris Sumarsono (alias Zulkarnaen), JI’s military commander during the 2002 Bali bombings, and Upik Lawanga, who, police said, was an expert bomb maker.

Aris had been on the run from authorities for 18 years. Upik allegedly was involved in several attacks in Central Sulawesi province between 2004 and 2006.

In 2020, JI’s overall leader, Para Wijayanto, was sentenced to seven years in prison.

Although Indonesia banned JI in 2008, the government gave it space and autonomy to engage in social welfare, charitable, educational and religious activities, as long as its members eschewed violence, counter-terrorism analysts have said.

A senior researcher at the Center for Radicalism and Deradicalization Studies (PAKAR), Moh Taufiqurrohman, said JI posed a long-term threat to Indonesia’s stability.

“Currently JI is not a security threat, because JI is more focused on missionary work, but in the future it will be very dangerous when it has established a military and begins to attack the government. The impact will be worse than JAD,” he told BenarNews this week.

“Their desire is clear, they want to Talibanize Indonesia one day. Currently, they are still in the process of recruiting, training and regeneration,” he said.

He was referring to the Taliban, the militant group that just toppled a U.S. and international coalition-backed government in Kabul amid the withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan.

“When they are strong militarily, they will attack,” he said.

JI has used charity boxes because it is most effective fund-raising method for the group.

“They capitalized on the generosity of the Indonesian people and the suffering of Muslims. Billions of rupiah could be raised a year,” the analyst said.

“They claimed to be humanitarian activists for Syria even though they participated in military training with (Sunni militant) groups such as Jabhat al-Nusra or Hayat Tahrir al-Sham. The funds were also used to pay lawyers for JI defendants on trial,” he said.

From 2013 to 2018, JI sent 96 people to Syria in seven batches, Taufiqurrohman said.

“Hopefully the government can implement regulations governing charitable foundations, by requiring them to have permits, make their reports public and have no links to extremist groups,” he said.

Stanislaus Riyanta, a security analyst at the University of Indonesia, said JI also counted businesses as among sources of its funding.

“For the time being, JI has refrained from using violent means that will result in arrests. JI currently prioritizes fundraising and propaganda through religious activities,” Stanislaus told BenarNews.

But it could become powerful in the next 10 or 20 years if action is not taken, he warned.

“Those who were in Syria will certainly be very dangerous if they return to Indonesia … especially if they were combatants,” he said.

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