Predicting the not-so unpredictable terror attacks in Indonesia!

yannis-moutsosIndonesia – The numerous attacks that took place in Indonesia on Thursday January 14th, should have been expected a long time ago. In fact, it was surprising that despite the emphasis given in terrorist incidents in Europe and the rest of the Western world, little has occurred in southern or eastern Asia.

by Yanni Moutsos – Editor in chief  “”

In an exclusive interview with His Excellency, Mr Benny Bahanadewa, ambassador of Indonesia in Greece, we posed the question concerning the means of tackling ISIS-Daesh and religious extremism and terrorist groups. The ambassador said that in his country the issue is dealt with the Special Courts. “Anyone who does not comply with the laws of the country is referred to the court where he receives his punishment”. Ambassador Banahadewa pointed out that a Muslim is not necessarily an extreme Islamist. There are more than 300 ethnic groups in Indonesia. It is a multicultural society where no distinctions are made between Islamists, Christians or any other nationalities and religions. Indeed, if someone is suspected of connections to extreme Islamism, then it is the role of the respective religious leaders to rehabilitate the person and put him/her back on the right track. Special attention is given to education and culture of these people, in order to gain real knowledge.

However despite the practices in place, Indonesia has experienced a series of terrorist attacks, leaving many dead and more wounded.


Lessons to be learned…

Indonesia – Radical Islam movements and groups are not a new phenomenon in Indonesia. In fact, they date back in the colonial era. These movements did not spring out of the blue. On the contrary one can trace their roots in reform movements in the Middle east. The reasons why a Muslim turns radical are not always the same. Sometimes a Muslim is radicalised due to the feeling of social exclusion i.e. in Paris the radical islamists and perpetrators of the attacks felt isolated from the rest of the society and turned to Islam to find some sympathy and relief. In other cases a Muslim may oppose the so called Western domination over his traditions, beliefs and lifestyle.

Wahhabism, is the base for most of radical Islamists. It is an strict interpretation Islam, which supports the return to the true nature of the Islam as it was practiced during the days of prophet Muhammad. The teachings of Wahhabism were set by Wahhabism, a very strict interpretation that aims for a return to the true nature of the Islam as it was practiced during the days of prophet Muhammad, was founded by Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab in Saudi Arabia in the mid-18th century. The purification of Islam would strengthen the position of Islam vis-a-vis the growing western powers. Around 1800, Indonesian hajji’s arriving back in the archipelago after the pilgrimage to Mecca, brought with them this Wahhabi ideology and aimed for reviving Indonesian Islam. Not coincidentally Wahhabism was spread through the archipelago when the Dutch began to expand their political role. Another radical movement that would gain much influence in Indonesia was the Salafi-movement that stems from Egypt at the end of the 19th century. Its ideology is essentially very similar to Wahhabism.

Contact with the Middle East was key in spreading stricter forms of Islam to Indonesia. When the Suez Canal opened in 1869, which significantly quickened journeys to the Middle East, contacts with religious centers in the Middle East were intensified. Not only an increase in numbers of Indonesian hajji’s emerged, but also more Indonesians went to study in Egypt or Saudi Arabia. Vice versa migrants from Arabia founded Salafi-influenced organizations in the archipelago, for example Al-Irsyad (Union for Reformation and Guidance) and Persatuan Islam (Islamic Union) in West Java, both promoting the purification of Islam.

Today, these links to the Middle East are still very important for present radical Indonesian movements, both for ideological support and for financial funding.


Putting a lid over the pan…
When Indonesia became an independent country, the stricter Muslim groups were to become disappointed. In Soekarno’s secular government there was no room for an Islamic state. Part of the radical Indonesian Muslim community joined the Darul Islam rebellion which aimed for the establishment of an Islamic state in Indonesia. This movement started in the 1940s but was eventually crushed by the Indonesian military in 1962. However, segments of the Darul Islam went underground and would produce and inspire other radical movements.

During Suharto’s New Order government radical Muslim voices and organizations were pushed underground even more severely as Muslim activists were imprisoned, often without trial. They were considered a threat to Suharto’s political power. Some, such as Abdullah Sungkar and Abu Bakar Ba’asyir (leaders of the Jema’ah Islamiyah), fled the country to seek a living in Malaysia. The radical religious groups that stayed in Indonesia kept underground and were mostly concentrated around the university campuses in the bigger cities.


Jihadist training camps

In 2010, the Indonesian government has had reasonable success in combating terrorist networks. Densus 88 killed the country’s most wanted terrorist, Dulmatin, in March 2010. This Dulmatin is suspected to be the mastermind behind the 2002 Bali bombings. Barely one month earlier, Densus 88 discovered a paramilitary training camp in the jungle of Aceh where – allegedly – attacks were prepared against the Indonesian president and against foreigners and other ‘infidels’. Dulmatin had been one of the leaders of this Aceh training camp. In June 2010, another mastermind of the Aceh training camp was arrested and sentenced to ten years in prison in 2011. During the course of 2010, 51 members of this Aceh training camp were arrested and charged. In August 2010, Densus 88 arrested Abu Bakar Ba’asyir who allegedly helped funding the Aceh training camp. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison. Lastly, in December 2010, Abu Tholut was arrested by Densus 88 due to his involvement in organizing this training camp.

What is next?

Indonesia’s total population reaches 206 millions people. 95% of its population – that is 196 millions- are Muslims. It is normal and somehow expected, based on previous experiences, that among the millions of Muslims it is bound to find groups of radical Islamists, who are determined to “spread the values of Daesh” in their own interpretation and become “martyrs”, either by committing a suicide attack or by plotting a major terrorist incident in the western world. Special courts prove to be inefficient in tackling radical Islam and extremism. Indonesian authorities should find ways to cooperate with other countries against the fight on terrorism, by providing intelligence on local extremist groups. ISIS-Daesh made its intentions clear, that it attempts to expand its operations out of Syria, and until now it has done so with great success. However it is worth noting that according to the Europol annual report on terrorism only two percent of terrorist incidents can be attributed to religious reasons, especially radical Islam.