Women are increasingly being targeted by terrorist recruiters, according to a senior Indonesian counter-terrorism official who promoted the need for open communication and moderate religious teachings at home to seminar attendees this week.
But, at the same time, women are perfect agents for preventing terrorism in Indonesia, said Police Brig. Gen. Hamli, director of prevention at the National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT).
The downfall of Islamic State (IS) strongholds in the Middle East last year forced the militant group to order its recruiters to target potential sympathizers in their countries.
“Women are prone to becoming their targets,” Hamli told those attending the seminar, which took place in Kulon Progo regency in Yogyakarta province on Tuesday.
The seminar was titled “Radicalism, Extremism, and Terrorism Prevention Among Villagers and Women’s Participation Optimization.”
“Women are expected to get sympathy from others and people usually tend to suspect women less. They are considered perfect candidates to become suicide bombers,” he said.
In 2016, police arrested two women, Dian Yulia Novi and Ika Puspitasari, after they allegedly planned suicide bomb attacks.
Dian was arrested by the anti-terror squad in Bekasi, West Java, breaking up her alleged plan to blow herself up outside the State Palace complex in Jakarta. Ika was apprehended in Purworejo, Central Java, on suspicion of plotting to attack an area in Bali.
In the past, women were involved indirectly in terror acts by hiding their husbands and other men, the BNPT official suggested.
“Women are not just victims [in terrorism] these days. They’re now also go-betweens and even the masterminds,” Hamli said.
Women used to follow their husbands in planning terror attacks, according to Rindang Farihah, director of the Mitra Wacana Women’s Resource Center (WRC), an NGO based in Yogyakarta.
“They maybe were just followers. But they’re developing their skills as recruiters or fund raisers,” Rindang said.
Attendee Widayati, 45, said the seminar made her aware that she and other women needed to be vigilant.
“Now I know how and why we need to keep the communication among family members, particularly children, open. We need to keep our eyes on them carefully and be informed about whom they befriend,” she said.
The likelihood of women and children being targeted by militant groups can be minimized if women take some simple yet effective steps to prevent radicalism, Hamli said.
“Open communication among family members is effective to tear down terrorism doctrines indicated by extreme and irrational ways of thinking,” he said.
A mother, he added, should be active in well-established groups such as the Family Welfare Movement (PKK) or moderate religious organizations.
“Mothers also should be firm in carefully watching the use of communication devices among family members,” Hamli said. Radical doctrines by extremist groups are easily found on social media platforms, according to the national police.
Another audience member, Dewi Susilowati, 38, said she demanded that her children seek permission before going out with friends.
“I know what they do on social media because I keep my eyes on them most of the time. I also demand they not lock their phones with passwords so I can inspect them at any time,” she said.
“I was always worried about promiscuous behavior. Turns out you also have to be vigilant about radicalism.”
Abdul Muhaimin, leader of the Yogyakarta Terrorism Prevention Communication Forum, said women were the most important figures in keeping family members away from radicalism. Mothers in particular must be role models.
“The quality of a generation lies in mothers’ hands, especially now when social life has fewer boundaries,” he said.