Radicalism in Indonesia: On the Trail of IS in Malang

Heny Rahayu

151117-ID-mosque-1000 Sulaiman al-Hunaishil Mosque in Malang, East Java, the site of an IS pledge of allegiance, has never been used for worship. This picture was taken on Oct. 20, 2015.

Surrounded by teak trees near a cemetery, Sulaiman al-Hunaishil Mosque has no water or electricity, and has never been used for worship. Its blue walls are faded and cracked, and its floor is dusty.

But on July 20, 2014, hundreds of people from all over East Java gathered at the mosque, on the far outskirts of the city of Malang, at the invitation of East Java Ansharul Caliphate, a group sympathetic to the Islamic State (IS).

Men, women and children listened to a lecture, watched a film on IS’s self-declared “caliphate” in the Middle East – then pledged allegiance to its emir, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

The man who preached at the event is now on trial in Jakarta on charges of terrorism and spreading IS ideology in Indonesia.

The so-called caliphate has since become infamous for its videotaped executions of prisoners, oppression of minorities and, most recently, bloody terrorist attacks in Paris and Beirut.

The fate of the people who attended the event that night in July 2014 is unclear.

Several hundred Indonesians – the exact number is difficult to pin down – have travelled to Syria and Iraq to join IS; about 50 have died fighting in Syria since March 2015, according to one security expert.

Many of the militants once loyal to Jemaah Islamiyah – al-Qaeda’s Southeast Asia affiliate that perpetrated the 2002 and 2005 Bali attacks – have found in IS a new network and a new sense of purpose.

Malang is a hotbed of IS activity in Indonesia.


For the July 2014 event, a generator was brought in to provide lights and power a projector. A banner, hung outside the unused mosque office, read “Socialization and Declaration of Ansharul Caliphate.”

Sitting cross-legged on the floor, participants listened attentively to preachers M. Fachry (alias Tuah Febriwansyah) and Syafuddin Umar's explanation about the Islamic State caliphate that Fachry said had been established in Iraq.

“I didn't know every single one of them,” East Java Ansharul Caliphate spokesman Muhammad Romly told BenarNews, referring to the participants.

After the sermon, they were asked to stand up and give their pledge of allegiance to Islamic State leader al-Baghdadi.

They said the pledge in Arabic and Indonesian, and recited takbir (“Allah is Great”) in unison.

Fachry distributed a copy of the Al Mustaqbal magazine – a pro-IS magazine and online portal –to the congregation.

He also gave out stickers depicting IS’s black-and-white flag with Arabic writing that read “There is no God but Allah” and “Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.”


Al-Baghdadi, who is believed to be based in Iraq, declared himself as the caliph of the Islamic State in July 2014. In May 2015, according to reports, he released a voice recording appealing to Muslims to migrate to regions of Iraq and Syria under IS control.

Romly believes that IS will establish an Islamic civilization and obliterate what he described as Western stigmatization of Islam that associates the religion with violence and poverty.

His group gives only moral support and prayers for IS fighters, he claimed.

"The Islamic State is Allah's promise, as clearly written in the Quran," he said.

Defendant Tuah Febriwansyah (alias Muhammad Fachry) arrives for his trial at the West Jakarta district court, Oct. 12, 2015. (AFP)
Defendant Tuah Febriwansyah (alias Muhammad Fachry) arrives for his trial at the West Jakarta district court, Oct. 12, 2015. (AFP)
Defendant Tuah Febriwansyah (alias Muhammad Fachry) arrives for his trial at the West Jakarta district court, Oct. 12, 2015. (AFP)

Romly said he had contacted Fachry to come to the event pledging allegiance to IS leader al-Baghdadi.

On March 21, 2015, the counterterrorism special force Densus 88 arrested Fachry at his house in South Tangerang, Banten province.

“We’re no longer able to communicate. Densus was making up charges against him," Romly said.

Fachry is now on trial at the West Jakarta court, facing allegations of terrorism activities and spreading belief that supports a banned group such as IS, through the Al-Mustaqbal portal.

Son of Malang

One of the most visible Indonesian members of IS – Salim Mubarok Attamimi, also known as Abu Jandal – was based in Malang before he emigrated to Syria. According to the authorities, he is now an IS commander in Syria.

Salim, who hails from Pasuruan, East Java, frequently organized Quran recital group sessions in Malang before moving to Syria.

"He was the one who called for 'jihad', through the YouTube video," said Mochammad Achwan, leader of the hardline Muslim group Jamaah Ansharusy Syariah (JAS) in Malang.

JAS broke away from Abu Bakar Bashir’s Jamaah Ansharut Tauhid (JAT) after Bashir – once described as the spiritual leader of Jemaah Islamiyah – reportedly pledged allegiance to IS in his prison cell in July 2014 and called on his followers to do the same.

According to Achwan, Salim's followers were from the Forum of Sharia Islam Activists (Faksi) – a network aimed at youths and students.

In a video titled "Tahridhul Hijrah Wal Jihad," uploaded by the Abu Mujahid account on June 27, 2014, Salim is seen flanked by two men and a little boy, calling for Indonesian Muslims to fight for their Muslims brothers repressed by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

In another, less slick video, posted online in December 2014, Salim threatened to “slaughter … one by one” those who oppose Sharia law in Indonesia.

In total, about 18 people from Malang joined IS, authorities believe.

On March 25, Densus 88 and East Java police arrested three people in Malang who had just returned from Syria and were suspected IS members. They are now on trial.

“We keep monitoring their group," said Malang city police chief, Singgamata.

Community surveillance

Ansharul Caliphate's Romly denied that he follows Salim, despite having attended a number of recital sessions in Malang a few years ago.

“I know Ustadz Salim and had attended his recital sessions. He was a brave preacher," he said.

The recital sessions moved around and sometimes were held in private homes in Malang.

Police guard the entrance to a house in Malang, believed to have links to an alleged IS follower, after it was raided on March 25, 2015. (BenarNews)
Police guard the entrance to a house in Malang, believed to have links to an alleged IS follower, after it was raided on March 25, 2015. (BenarNews)
Police guard the entrance to a house in Malang, believed to have links to an alleged IS follower, after it was raided on March 25, 2015. (BenarNews)

"There were two houses in which they held recital sessions," said Umar Usman, East Java regional commander of Banser, the youth wing of the moderate Muslim group Nahdlatul Ulama (NU).

Usman said Banser had been monitoring the group's movements for some time in an effort to prevent it from influencing others.

"They are Islamic hardliners and fight with weapons," he said.

Residents of the densely populated Muharto neighborhood, who are mainly followers of NU, Indonesia's biggest Islamic mass organization, asked the recital group to stop meeting in the area.

That was after Banser members snuck in and attended a meeting. According to Umar, the discussions featured negative talk about the government and other Islamic groups.

The sessions stopped after Salim took his wife and five children, including two foster children, to Syria last year.

"The recital group no longer held sessions since Salim went to Syria," Umar said.

But he maintains his surveillance in the community, out of concern that Salim’s followers may have splintered and established a new cell.

Police say they cannot ban groups like JAT, or those that openly support IS and spread hate towards others, from organizing recital sessions.

“Don't exaggerate it. IS no longer exists in Malang,” said city police chief Singgamata.

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