Almost ten years after the 2002 Bali bombing, Indonesian extremists are weak and divided but still finding partners for new operations.
How Indonesian Extremists Regroup, the latest report from the International Crisis Group, looks at how fugitives, despite – and sometimes because of – unrelenting police pressure, have been able to build new alliances on the run. Understanding the networks they use to find sanctuary and the choices they make about where to go and who to contact could help define the extremists’ support base and inform a national counter-extremism strategy that is still on the drawing board.
The most devastating blow to terrorist capacity in recent years was the break-up in early 2010 of a training camp in Aceh in which almost all major jihadi groups in the country were involved. Hundreds were arrested and some 30 suspects killed over the next two years. But the result was the emergence of new alliances, the revival of dormant cells and new recruitment through internet chatting, prison visits and radical lectures. Some twelve jihadi plots have been hatched since the camp was broken up, most of them aimed at police and churches and most poorly conceived and executed.
“Fortunately for Indonesia, most of these would-be terrorists have been singularly inept”, says Sidney Jones, Crisis Group Senior Adviser. “But there are signs that at least some are learning lessons from their mistakes and becoming more strategic in their thinking. The danger is not over”.
The report looks in particular at an alliance that emerged after 2010 involving a group in Medan, North Sumatra; a cell of Jamaah Anshorut Tauhid (JAT) in Poso, Central Sulawesi; and an anti-vice group called Tim Hisbah in Solo, Central Java. The Medan group had the brains and the money, raised by computer specialists through internet fraud. The Poso cell had a training site and access to arms. Tim Hisbah had enthusiastic young recruits. As their networks merged, they drew in others, including ordinary criminals recruited in prison. Basic tactical mistakes led to the arrests in 2012 of many of those involved, but with better leadership and discipline, similar groups could easily form to more lethal effect.
Many loopholes in the system remain. The extremists described in the report were able to crisscross the country with forged or borrowed identity cards, check in at airports under false names, communicate through chat forums, buy arms and ammunition and work closely with friends in prison.
“Indonesian police have been good but they have also been lucky that the capacity of these extremists has been so low”, says Jim Della-Giacoma, Crisis Group’s South East Asia Project Director. “Ten years after Bali, there are virtually no effective programs in place to address the conditions that allow jihadi ideology to flourish”.