ISSN 2330-717X

Indonesian Jihadism: Small Groups, Big Plans

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A suicide bomb at an Indonesian police station last week fits a pattern of “individual jihad” aimed at local targets undertaken by small groups acting independently of large jihadi organisations but sometimes with their encouragement.

Indonesian Jihadism: Small Groups, Big Plans , the latest report from the International Crisis Group, looks at how ideological shifts originating in the Middle East have combined with local circumstances to produce a trend that favours targeted killings over indiscriminate bombings, local over foreign targets and individual or small group action over operations by more hierarchical organisations.

“The emergence of these small groups undertaking jihad on their own highlights the urgent need for prevention programs – which are virtually non-existent in Indonesia”, says Sidney Jones, Crisis Group Senior Adviser. “The critical task is to identify vulnerable communities, starting with areas that have produced extremist groups in the recent past, and think through possible programs that might strengthen community resistance to extremist teaching.”

The report provides detailed case studies of small violent groups that have emerged in Indonesia in 2009 and 2010 in Medan and Lampung, on Sumatra, and in Bandung and Klaten, on Java. All involved at least one former prisoner. Three of the four had links to Jama’ah Anshorul Tauhid (JAT), the organisation founded by radical cleric Abu Bakar Ba’asyir, but seem to have planned and carried out operations on their own. Three of the four also involved mosque-based study groups that evolved into hit squads. All were committed to the idea of ightiyalat, secret assassinations, a concept that has gained popularity in part through the translations into Indonesian of radical tracts by members of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

By contrast, advocates of “organisational” as opposed to “individual” jihad believe that if the ultimate goal is an Islamic state, then public support is critical. Rather than engage in violence, groups like Jemaah Islamiyah and JAT are focused for the moment on building up a mass base, by finding issues that resonate with their target audience. Increasingly this means a greater focus on local rather than foreign “enemies”, with officials who are seen as oppressors, particularly the police; Christians; and members of the Ahmadiyah sect topping the list. It also means a greater willingness than in the past to join coalitions with non-jihadi groups.

While the two approaches may seem very different, they are in fact complementary. The larger jihadi organisations have the networks and the funds to support religious outreach via radio stations, religious study sessions, magazines and other media through which well-known radical ideologues can disseminate the basic principles of salafi jihadism. They provide the broader community from which small groups committed to “individual” jihad emerge.

“The last two years have seen an increasing merger of violent and non-violent extremist agendas in Indonesia”, says Jim Della-Giacoma, Crisis Group South East Asia Project Director. “Counter-radicalisation programs need to move beyond law enforcement to stop extremism at the source”.

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