Combating Terrorism In Indonesia: Re-Evaluating Strategies For Deradicalization And Reintegration – OpEd


Terrorism poses a persistent and significant threat in Indonesia, with several extremist groups, including those sympathetic to ISIS, challenging national security. The government has taken legislative measures and implemented de-radicalization initiatives to combat terrorism. However, the ongoing presence of terrorists raises doubts about the effectiveness of these policies.

This article critically evaluates the Indonesian government’s approach to terrorism, with a focus on the effectiveness of de-radicalization efforts and the successful reintegration of former terrorists into society. The thesis argues that the government must proactively dismantle extremist groups and ensure the successful reintegration of ex-terrorists. Existing policies have shown limited effectiveness, as evidenced by the continued activities of ISIS supporters and the challenges faced by prisoners released during the reintegration process.

The Indonesian government has implemented several legislative measures to combat terrorism. One notable action is the introduction of the Anti-Terrorism Law (Law No. 5 of 2018), which has strengthened the legal framework for counter-terrorism operations. This law permits preventive detention and expands surveillance capabilities. Additionally, the National Counter-Terrorism Agency (BNPT) has been established to facilitate coordination among various government entities in their counter-terrorism efforts.

De-radicalization programs are a key component of Indonesia’s overall strategy. These programs aim to rehabilitate and reintegrate former terrorists and sympathizers into society through psychological counseling, religious education, and vocational training. The government works closely with religious leaders and community organizations to address the ideological roots of terrorism and promote moderate teachings of Islam. Despite the enhanced capabilities provided to security forces by the Anti-Terrorism Law, its effectiveness is a subject of debate among academics. Critics argue that the implementation of preventive detention without legal proceedings carries the risk of human rights violations, and the isolation may exacerbate the problem of radicalization among moderate Muslims.

Furthermore, the legislation has not adequately addressed challenges related to terrorist financing and the dissemination of extremist propaganda through online platforms, which continue to be significant issues. The outcomes of de-radicalization programs in Indonesia vary considerably. While some former terrorists have successfully reintegrated into society by renouncing extremist ideologies and actively promoting peace, the reintegration of significantly radicalized individuals poses challenges. Many individuals face social stigma and struggle to secure employment and overcome ostracization upon their release, particularly in areas like Poso and Solo. The experience of social exclusion often leads to recidivism, as seen in cases where former inmates have resumed terrorist activities due to unsuccessful reintegration efforts.

The presence of ISIS sympathizers in Indonesia remains a concern despite government efforts. Many sympathizers persist in extremist spreading ideologies. For instance, the 2019 suicide bombing in Medan carried was out by an individual sympathetic to ISIS who had evaded detection within the de-radicalization program. 

The inadequate handling of ISIS sympathizers highlights the weaknesses of current policies. Sympathizers often receive reduced sentences or early release, only to engage in terrorist activities once again. Additionally, the government has yet to fully ban ISIS-affiliated groups, allowing their ideologies to persist and influence susceptible individuals. The reintegration of former terrorists into society presents a significant obstacle. Communities are often hesitant to accept individuals with extremist backgrounds due to security concerns.

For example, in Aceh, members of the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) who later joined extremist groups face severe ostracism, making it extremely difficult for them to start anew. However, there are instances where communities have successfully embraced former terrorists, demonstrating the potential for successful reintegration. In Central Java, for instance, local leaders and community members facilitated the reintegration process by providing employment opportunities and assistance. These efforts highlight the importance of establishing support systems to promote successful reintegration. 

To effectively combat terrorism, the Indonesian government should prioritize enhancing the capabilities of intelligence agencies. This involves monitoring and disrupting terrorist networks, particularly focusing on online terrorist propaganda and financing. Employing advanced technology and providing necessary training to personnel to proactively address evolving threats are essential measures. Furthermore, it is crucial to improve the quality and scope of deradicalization programs.

Drawing from expertise in disciplines such as psychology and sociology, community leadership can comprehensively address the root causes of radicalization. Additionally, establishing post-release support systems, including job placement and counseling, and community engagement initiatives, is crucial in successfully facilitating reintegration. Active involvement of the community is vital in counter-terrorism efforts, whereby local leaders should be encouraged to support reintegration programs and counter extremist narratives, fostering an environment of acceptance and collaboration.

In conclusion, the current approach of the Indonesian government to counter terrorism has yielded mixed results. While legislative measures and deradicalization programs have achieved some success they are insufficient in effectively tackling the persistent terrorism threat. A more assertive and proactive stance is needed to dismantle extremist factions and ensure the seamless reintegration of terrorists into society. Monitoring strengthening mechanisms, enhancing deradicalization initiatives, and fostering community support in Indonesia enable to combat terrorism effectively and establish and ensure peace and stability.

The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own.


Simon Hutagalung

Simon Hutagalung is a retired diplomat from the Indonesian Foreign Ministry and received his master's degree in political science and comparative politics from the City University of New York. The opinions expressed in his articles are his own.

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