Indonesian authorities said they were investigating whether Jemaah Islamiyah, which carried out the 2002 Bali bombings and other terrorist attacks in the country, was involved in establishing palm oil plantations and other enterprises as funding sources for its operations.
It has been years since JI was linked to any bombings in the world’s largest majority-Muslim country, but police believe the militant group may be investing in palm oil production, among other economic activities, as a source of money for its mission to turn Indonesia into a Sharia state.
“We suspect they are building a strong economic foundation in order to realize their plans,” national police spokesman Dedi Prasetyo told BenarNews.
Police were not aware of any immediate plans by JI to carry out new terrorist attacks, he added.
“They own palm oil plantations in Kalimantan and Sumatra,” he said, referring to Indonesian Borneo and the western island of Sumatra.
“If we seize or destroy those plantations, it will affect the group’s revenue to some extent, but again, we are still investigating how large their plantations are or whether they have other businesses,” Dedi said.
JI, a Southeast Asian militant group affiliated with al-Qaeda, was blamed for the country’s deadliest terror attack, the bombings that killed 202 people 17 years ago on the island of Bali, Indonesia’s biggest tourist draw.
In late June, counter-terrorism police arrested Para Wijayanto, the suspected chief of JI who had been on a government most-wanted list since 2003, and three of his aides.
Para, who undertook military training in the southern Philippines in 2000, became the group’s leader and rebuilt its cells after Indonesia declared Jemaah an illegal organization in 2007, police allege. He was picked up in Bekasi, a city near the capital Jakarta, on June 29.
Dedi said police were questioning a suspected JI treasurer, whose name authorities have not released, after they arrested him in Magetan regency, East Java, on July 3.
The suspect, Dedi said, managed JI’s finances under a structure established by Para.
JI paid its top leaders between 10 million (U.S. $714) and 15 million rupiah ($1,070) per month through proceeds from the plantation business, the police spokesman said.
Dedi did not say when JI started the plantation business or how large it is, but said it was registered under a company, not in the name of individual members of the militant group.
“Anything confiscated from the terrorist group will be used as evidence in a trial. It can be impounded or destroyed, depending on a court’s order,” Dedi said.
Asked whether police still considered JI a terrorist group, Dedi replied:
“It’s been declared an outlawed organization … and they still have members and sympathizers. They are not gone yet, as indicated by the arrest of Para Wijayanto.
“We continue to be vigilant against the threats (posed by JI),” he said.
‘Stopped acts that attract attention’
Para, 54, a civil engineering graduate, allegedly had roles in several deadly attacks perpetrated by JI, including the coordinated bombings on Christmas Eve 2000 that killed 18 people, and the 2002 Bali bombings, in which 88 Australians were among the dead.
Between 2003 and 2009, the group was also blamed for deadly bombings at hotels in Jakarta as well as the Australian embassy and another attack in Bali.
“JI still exists because their dream of establishing an Islamic state is always there,” said Noor Huda Ismail, an expert on Islamic militancy who started a foundation devoted to rehabilitating former militants.
“JI is not only a terrorist organization, but a social movement. They have their own resources, including schools and plantations,” he said.
In the past the group relied on funds raised through robberies to finance their operations, said Sofyan Tsauri, a former JI member.
“JI members are indeed more adaptive in running the organization,” Sofyan told BenarNews.
“They have stopped acts that attract attention. It could be that they are consolidating their strengths, including financially.”
However, according to another analyst, JI has weakened since an Indonesian court declared it a banned organization 12 years ago, but he warned that it remains a threat.
Some of its battle-hardened members who trained in Afghanistan and the southern Philippines had abandoned the group and were laying low, said Adhe Bhakti, an analyst at the Center for Radicalism and De-radicalization Studies (PAKAR).
“They are trying to live regular lives,” Adhe told BenarNews.
He estimated that JI has 1,000 members and the group under Para managed to send six people to Syria to take part in the conflict there.
As for JI’s military wing, known as Asykari, it remains active in Java and in Lampung, a province on Sumatra, he said.
JI also is recruiting new members, but it opposes the ideology espoused by the Islamic State (IS) extremist group, which has been linked to terrorist attacks in Indonesia in more recent years, said Sidney Jones, director of the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC) in Jakarta.
“[T]hey have eschewed violence because they believe Muslims in Indonesia are not under attack. They aspire to establish an Islamic state, but not the ISIS-style caliphate,” she told BenarNews, using another acronym for IS.
Tia Asmara and Rina Chadijah contributed to this report from Jakarta.