Indonesia: Militant Group Behind Bali Bombings Tries to Infiltrate Govt Institutions

Tria Dianti
Indonesia: Militant Group Behind Bali Bombings Tries to Infiltrate Govt Institutions Police escort suspected militants upon arrival at the Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Tangerang, Indonesia, March 18, 2021.

Updated at 6:47 p.m. ET on 2021-11-17

Jemaah Islamiyah militants have tried to infiltrate the Indonesian military, police and government ministries for more than a decade, a deputy at the country’s counter-terrorism agency said Wednesday.

The revelation came a day after police arrested three people suspected of involvement with JI, the group linked with al-Qaeda and that Indonesian authorities blamed for the 2002 Bali bombings – the country’s deadliest terrorist attack to date.

Ahmad Nurwakhid, deputy for prevention at the National Counter-Terrorism Agency (BNPT) said JI members were able to infiltrate government organizations and moderate Islamic groups because of a “remarkable” ability to blend in.

“Since Para Wijayanto took over the leadership [in 2008], JI has undergone reorganization and changed its tactics by infiltrating state institutions and mass organizations,” Nurwakhid told BenarNews.

The official was referring to JI’s emir, or leader, who was arrested in 2019 and was subsequently sentenced to seven years in prison last year for leading the outlawed organization.

“It’s very likely they [have tried to infiltrate] other religious organizations such as Muhammadiyah, NU [Nahdlatul Ulama], NGOs, sports groups and biking groups,” Nurwakhid said. Muhammadiyah and NU are moderate Islamic groups.

Nurwakhid said there had been no information of any attack plot by JI so far.

“We take action and prevent a terrorist attack before it occurs and we will continue to do so,” he said.

The counter-terror official said eight policepersons, five members of the military and 18 civil servants had been arrested for involvement in terrorism since 2010.

JI, the Southeast Asian affiliate of al-Qaeda, has not staged a major attack here since 2011.

Police have arrested 876 members of the group since the 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202 people, police said last month. 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.

‘Nothing to do with MUI’

Among the three arrested on Tuesday was a top official at the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), the nation’s powerful semi-official board of Muslim scholars. MUI said the arrested man, Ahmad Zain An-Naja, who sat on its fatwa commission, had been suspended pending a police investigation.

The others arrested were Ahmad Farid Okbah, chairman of the little-known Islamic-oriented grouping Indonesian People’s Calling Party, and Anung Al-Hamat, a university lecturer, police said.

Zain and Farid were members of JI’s advisory council, while Anung was on its supervisory council, police added.

Farid was known to have spent time in Afghanistan at the behest of JI co-founder Abu Bakar Bashir, BNPT’s Nurwakhid said. Bashir, 83, was released from prison in January after serving nearly a decade of a 15-year-sentence on terror-related charges.

Zain, the anti-terror official said, is a graduate of the Bashir-founded Al-Mukmin Islamic boarding school in Solo, a city in Central Java. Zain also served as chairman of the sharia board of the Abdurrahman Bin Auf (BM ABA) charitable foundation which, according to police, had raised funds for JI.

MUI chairman Cholil Nafis said Zain was a member of the organization’s 75-member fatwa commission. A fatwa is a legal opinion or decree handed down by an Islamic religious leader.

“[Zain’s] alleged involvement in a terrorist network is a personal matter and has nothing to do with MUI,” Cholil told a press conference

National police spokesman Rusdi Hartono said that the arrest of the three on Tuesday was based on information from the questioning of other JI members arrested previously.

“We have taken law enforcement actions against those involved in Baitul Mal Abdurrahman Bin Auf, in Jakarta, Sumatra, North Sumatra, Lampung and Medan.” Rusdi said, referring to the charitable foundation at which Zain was sharia board chairman.

“Information obtained has been used to investigate the suspects,” he added.

The head of operational assistance at the anti-terror police unit Densus 88, Commissioner Aswin Siregar, denied some Muslim groups’ allegations that police were targeting Islamic clerics.

“This is purely due to the individuals’ involvement in the terror network. Anyone who is affiliated to or involved with a terrorist group, as long as there’s evidence, will be arrested. There is no persecution (of Muslim clerics),” he said.

JI’s goal is to ‘disguise their activities’

Many of an estimated 2,000 JI followers who took part in military training in Afghanistan have been active by joining social organizations, including those that advocate for environmental conservation, said Stanislaus Riyanta, a security researcher at the University of Indonesia.

“Their goal is to disguise their activities and intentions, which is to take power. Maybe they are not a threat for now, but in the long term they are dangerous and could threaten [to undermine] the government,” he told BenarNews.

A senior researcher from the Center for the Study of Radicalism and Deradicalization (PAKAR), Moh Adhe Bakti said JI has become more open by running businesses, charitable institutions, palm oil plantations, and joining mass organizations and government institutions.

“They sent aid to Syria and Afghanistan and sent people there to build water facilities, but also sent their members to join military training there, under the pretext of charity,” Adhe told BenarNews.

JI members do not believe in democracy even if they take part in democratic activities, he said.

“JI’s dream is to establish an Islamic state. However, it is not certain whether it still embraces the ideology or whether it has changed now,” Adhe said.

CORRECTION: An earlier version misattributed a quote by Ahmad Nurwakhid, the BNPT official, to the MUI.


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