Indonesia police report plot by Islamic militant group to overthrow govt

Arie Firdaus and Dandy Koswaraputra
2022.04.18
Jakarta
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Indonesia police report plot by Islamic militant group to overthrow govt Sarjono Kartosuwiryo (holding microphone), whose father founded the Islamic State of Indonesia militant group, talks to journalists in Jakarta after he and 13 other ex-members pledged allegiance to the Indonesian state, Aug. 13, 2019.
Arie Firdaus/BenarNews

A group known as the Islamic State of Indonesia (NII) was plotting to overthrow the government before the next general election, police claimed Monday, saying they obtained documents related to the alleged conspiracy by interrogating 16 suspects arrested in West Sumatra last month.

Members of the group, founded seven decades ago, had drawn up plans, acquired weapons and undergone training to create chaos and establish a caliphate system of government, officials said, but declined to give more information or say whether the plot was still active.

“The evidence we found shows that NII is trying to overthrow the sovereign government before the 2024 elections,” said Senior Commissioner Aswin Siregar, head of operational support at Densus 88, a police counter-terrorism unit, told reporters.

However, according to a former NII member, the group is not capable of pulling off an attack at that level.

The announcement by police followed the arrest of the suspected NII members at two locations in West Sumatra province in March. Officers found documents outlining the group’s mission to replace the nation’s founding ideology known as Pancasila and the secular government with a caliphate by fomenting chaos, Aswin said.

The suspects admitted that they had been ordered to acquire weapons to prepare for an attack, Aswin said.

When BenarNews contacted him, Aswin declined to provide details about the reported evidence or the suspects’ statements.

Along with West Sumatra, West Java and Bali have been NII hotbeds, according to police. The group has an estimated 1,125 followers in West Sumatra, 400 of whom are active members, Aswin said, but declined to give an estimate for the number of NII members across the country.

Independence fighter and Muslim activist Sekarmaji Marijan Kartosuwiryo, a friend of the country’s founding president, Sukarno, proclaimed the Islamic State of Indonesia in 1949.

The NII, also known in Arabic as Darul Islam, and its armed wing, the Islamic Army of Indonesia (TII), waged an armed rebellion against Jakarta until the Indonesian government suppressed it in the 1960s.

Kartosuwiryo was executed in 1962 after Darul Islam declared a war against the government and tried to assassinate President Sukarno in 1961.

In 2019, Kartosuwiryo’s son, Sarjono, who pledged allegiance to the Indonesian state, said about 2 million NII sympathizers are spread across the country.

Analysts, meanwhile, said the NII movement spawned militant groups in Indonesia, including Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), the Southeast Asian affiliate of al-Qaeda that authorities blamed for a series of deadly attacks in the 2000s, including the 2002 Bali bombings.

NII is a conveyor belt to terrorism, said Noor Huda Ismail, founder of the Institute for International Peace Building (IIPB).

“Some NII factions are even more hardline than JI, such as the Serang group in West Java,” Noor Huda told BenarNews.

Islah Bahrawi, executive director of the Indonesian Moderates’ Network, told an online discussion last week that NII plans were motivated by the Taliban’s success in taking over the government in Afghanistan last year.

‘Ideologically fluid’

The group has no qualms about working with JI and Jemaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD), a domestic militant network affiliated with Islamic State (IS), the international terror organization based in the Middle East, Islah said. Indonesian courts have declared both JI and JAD illegal organizations.

“At the moment, the NII is unique because it is ideologically fluid. They will embrace those that have the same goal, to make Indonesia an Islamic state,” Islah told BenarNews, adding it has been recruiting children.

“Our findings show that half of their recruits are teenagers, many under 15 years old,” he said.

A former JI militant, Malaysian Nasir Abbas, said the NII group had recruited children for years through Islamic boarding schools and has instilled in them an ideology that glorifies the Islamic caliphate. The children were taught to reject the government and were not allowed to salute the Indonesian flag or sing the national anthem.

Former NII member Al Chaidar, on the other hand, said police had exaggerated the threat posed by the organization.

“NII doesn’t have that kind of capability. They’re not sophisticated yet. They’re not like JI or JAD,” Chaidar told BenarNews.

He cast doubt on police claims that the group recruited minors and wanted to emulate the Taliban’s success in Afghanistan.

“Only one faction is happy with the Taliban victory. The remaining [factions] have not said anything about it. They are also not militarily trained,” Chaidar said.

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