Indonesia Keeping Eye on IS Veterans Who Have Come Home: Officials

Tia Asmara
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161018_ID_ISIS_1000.jpg Indonesian Muslim protesters wave Islamic State flags as they rally against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in Solo, Indonesia, June 9, 2013.
Photo: Benar

Indonesia is closely monitoring nearly 50 citizens who have returned from combat stints with the Islamic State (IS) group in the Middle East, but the lack of a tough anti-terror law makes it hard for authorities to arrest them, officials said.

Forty-seven IS fighters from Indonesia are under surveillance back home but they cannot be prosecuted under the country’s present laws for supporting or traveling abroad to join a foreign-based militant group such as IS, Indonesian counter-terror officials said.

Authorities can arrest people only if they have evidence that they are planning terrorist attacks, according to officials. Now, the Indonesian parliament is considering a bill to revise the country’s 2003 anti-terrorism law to give police greater enforcement powers against suspected militants in halting potential attacks.

IS claimed responsibility for an attack in central Jakarta that killed eight people in January, including the four suspected attackers, and officials have been warning that citizens returning from combat tours with IS could plot more attacks on home soil.

“We are only able to monitor them. We do not have the legal framework for further action,” Inspector Gen. Arif Darmawan, deputy head of the National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT), told BenarNews.

Meanwhile, Muhammad Syafii, who chairs a special parliamentary committee revising the antiterrorism law, said his committee was still gathering testimony from interested parties. He acknowledged that the ongoing discussions meant that the committee’s work would be delayed.

“We may be able to finish it in 2017,” he told BenarNews.

‘They can evade our detection’

Based on international intelligence reports, 47 IS combatants who are believed to have the skill to carry out attacks have returned to Indonesia, BNPT officials said.

As of August, according to the agency, 237 Indonesian adults and 46 children were living in Syria. Additionally, 67 Indonesian citizens have been declared dead in Syria and 283 citizens who tried to enter Syria illegally were expelled by other countries back to Indonesia.

National Police Chief Gen. Tito Karnavian expressed concern about the nearly four dozen who have been identified as former IS combatants and who have returned to Indonesia.

“We are getting in touch with them but they can evade our detection. We believe they are organizing secretly and building interactions with other (radical) networks,” Tito told the Reuters news agency this week.

‘The dangerous ones’

But, according to one security expert’s reading, the public need not be concerned about the activities of the 47 IS veterans under surveillance.

“As they are already detected, we have no need to worry. They just need to be monitored. The government has their data, their names and addresses,” Ridlwan Habib, a terrorism analyst from the University of Indonesia in Jakarta, told BenarNews.

The real concern, he said, is those who have returned to Indonesia but have not detected by the government. Ridlwan explained that they enter Indonesia through several ways, such as pretending to be Hajj pilgrims returning home or by using false passports.

“Those who returned alone are the dangerous ones and have to be watched because their whereabouts are not known. They have the ability to build new networks that are not detected,” he said.

Harits Abu Ulya, a terrorism expert with the Community of Ideological Islamic Analysts (CIIA), said the assumption that former IS combatants would return to Indonesia is not accurate because, in his view, the militant group’s followers would not want to go back to their countries of origin.

“That is, if they reach their destination, for example Syria, for them is a glory to live and die in that place. They will be completely dedicated to the IS,” he said in a statement to BenarNews.

Suspected followers of IS who have returned to Indonesia have done so because they were deported, or they no longer share the common ideology with IS, Harits said.

“Most were arrested before arriving in Syria,” he said, pointing out there were stopped before leaving the country or were caught in Malaysia, Singapore, Pakistan, Hong Kong or Turkey.


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