Radicalism in Indonesia: Laws Toothless in Pursuit of IS Disciples

Lenita Sulthani
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151120_ID_ISIS_LAW_1000.jpg Members of Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia protest in Malang, East Java against President Joko Widodo’s inauguration and demand the establishment of a caliphate in Indonesia, Oct. 19, 2014.

Like his father, Umar Jundul Haq died a violent death.

The 19-year-old son of Bali bomber Imam Samudra was killed on Oct. 14 while fighting for the Islamic State (IS) extremist group in Syria, according to news reports.

Samudra was executed seven years ago for his role in the 2002 bombings that killed 202 people in Kuta, Bali. He was tried and convicted of taking part in a conspiracy by Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), al-Qaeda’s Southeast Asia affiliate, to commit an act of terrorism on Indonesian soil.

For Nasir Abas, a former member of JI, it was no surprise that the son of a convicted terrorist followed in his footsteps.

“Many terrorism convicts have a history of radicalism in their families. Their fathers or grandfathers were involved in terrorism,” said Abas, who now works with Indonesia’s National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT).

Under Indonesia’s 12-year-old anti-terrorism law, Imam Samudra’s son could not have been prosecuted for going overseas to take up arms for IS or commit terrorist acts on foreign soil.

‘We had to let them go’

In August 2014, the Indonesian government banned the Islamic State state soon after IS declared the establishment of a caliphate in parts of Iraq and Syria that it controlled.

Yet authorities in the world’s most populous Muslim country have struggled to prevent hundreds of young Indonesians from venturing abroad for the group’s jihadist cause.

“There were some returnees from Syria recently. We tried to find crimes to charge them with, but we couldn't, so we had to let them go. We don't have legal instruments to prosecute them for doing things like taking up arms in Syria," National Police chief Badrodin Haiti told BenarNews.

“So, we look to see if they have other offenses that we can charge them with," he added.

To date, Syria returnees have been charged with falsification of identification documents, terrorism financing, and participating in illegal domestic military training in places like Aceh province.

“We have no legal basis to curb people from supporting IS and going to Syria,” Saud Usman Nasution, who heads the BNPT, told BenarNews.

“The most preventive measure we can take is to tell them not to join, and explain to them about the real meaning of jihad and that the meaning of hijrah has been misinterpreted. So the fault is in our law," he said.

Laws need to be stiffened: BNPT

Authorities don’t have an exact number on how many Indonesians have sworn allegiance to the extremist group.

According to figures disseminated by the BNPT and other governmental agencies, the number of Indonesians who have traveled to Syria or Iraq to join IS ranges from 350 to 800, including about 60 who have been killed in combat in that region.

The exact number is difficult to pin down because some go via a third country after departing Indonesia on a pretense of a pilgrimage or vacation.

Adding to the uncertainty, some 800,000 Indonesians already study or work in the Middle East, according to the Foreign Ministry. Some of these overseas Indonesians may have joined IS.

Indonesia currently has two laws on the books for prosecuting terrorists or members of radical organizations, such as the hardline Islamic Defenders Front (FPI). The laws are the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2003, and the Mass Organization Law.

Both laws need to strengthened, according to Saud.

“We have been charging those radical organizations with the Mass Organization Law with two sanctions, if they are found guilty. We can freeze or withdraw their operating licenses, but, soon after, they can always set up a new establishment,” Saud said.

There should also be a regulation to pursue and prosecute individuals or organizations that have pledged allegiance to the caliphate, he added.


Efforts to clamp down on IS members and supporters were instituted in September 2014, shortly before then-President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono left office.

Yudhoyono issued seven directives aimed at curbing IS’s domestic recruitment efforts. These included keeping track of passports and visas issued to Indonesians, monitoring activities of Indonesians in Syria and surveillance of foreigners in Indonesia.

The former president also ordered that monitoring of convicted terrorists be increased in the country’s prisons, and that security be ratcheted up in areas seen as prone to militant activity, including Poso, Ambon, East Java and Central Java.

The administration of President Joko Widodo is deliberating how to revise the country’s anti-terrorism law, Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, Indonesia’s coordinating minister for Politics, Legal and Security Affairs, told BenarNews

But several issues need further discussion, such as whether to revoke the citizenship of Indonesians who join the “caliphate,” what constitutes radicalism, and many others, he said.

According to presidential chief of staff Teten Masduki, the terrorism issue can be addressed by promoting moderate Islam.

“It is urgent that we instill the culture of moderate Islam and revive the spirit of religious freedom. That is why the president plans to establish a higher educational institution based on moderate Islam,” Teten said, without elaborating.

He dismissed concerns that radicalism in Indonesia had grown to alarming levels.

“I think the president gets updates all the time from the police, army, and intelligence agency. The situation is not yet serious,” he said.


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