Lax Deradicalization Blamed for Ex-Terror Convicts' Return to Militancy

Inmates are seen at Salemba Penitentiary in Central Jakarta, late last year. (Antara Photo/Sigid Kurniawan)

By : Stefy Tenu & Erwin Sihombing | on 7:22 PM January 18, 2016
Category : News, Featured, Terrorism

Semarang, Central Java. The involvement of two previously known terrorists in last week's attack in Jakarta has prompted questions over the success of deradicalization efforts of prison inmates by the National Counter-Terrorism Agency (BNPT), with one former convict saying there is no dedicated approach at the moment.

Two of the four attackers gunned down by police after the bombings on Jalan M.H. Thamrin in Central Jakarta have been identified as terrorists known to law enforcement.

Afif, who also went by Sunakim or Sunardi, was sentenced to seven years imprisonment in 2010 after participating in a militant training camp run in the highland jungles of Aceh, but was released on parole in 2013.

Marwan, also known as Muhammad Ali, is believed to have been involved in a string of deadly armed bank robberies in North Sumatra, ostensibly to raise funds for the camp.

Former terror inmate Machmudi Hariono, jailed for five years for his role in the 2003 J.W. Marriott bombing, said there is no specific BNPT deradicalization program for terror convicts.

“My experience while serving time at Kedungpane prison in Semarang, is that there is no coaching. At most it was only a monthly visit by BNPT [officials] for an hour or two to discuss mainly our sentence,” said Machmudi.

“The [convicted] terrorists are not specially coached, such as given religious guidance from clerics to change our radical doctrines. It's only common religious coaching, such as prayer meetings or bringing in clerics [to lead prayer]."

Machmudi said in the absence of more moderate teachings of Islam, hardened convicts were able to recruit and spread radical views freely among other inmates.

Attempts by authorities to stem the spread failed after convicts were separated based on how radical their views were deemed to be. Machmudi said his period of isolation lasted only four months, after which inmates were essentially left on their own to ward off radical teachings.

The former inmate also criticized the monitoring of convicts after their release.

"Those on parole are still obliged to report or keep in contact with the BNPT," he said, before adding that the BNPT does not adequately prepare inmates for life after prison.

Most released convicts struggle to find work due to the stigma of being a former terrorist. Some move cities to start afresh, but many rejoin jihadi group, Machmudi said.

Machmudi considers himself fortunate after reaching out to terror expert Noor Huda Ismail, who has set up a restaurant that employs a number of former terror convicts in an effort to diversify deradicalization efforts.

Machmudi now owns a car rental service in his hometown of Semarang in Central Java, with six cars in his fleet. But he has struggled to escape the stigma.

"Whenever there is a terrorist attack, there is always suspicion. Not just from friends or neighbors, but also family members. I just say I have repented and I don't know them [the terrorists]," he said.

Machmudi also struggles with former cellmates asking him to rejoin jihadi groups.

"I tell them, I have a wife and kids now. I must provide for my family."

I Wayan Kusmiantha Dusak, director general for penitentiaries at the Ministry of Justice, said with 249 terror inmates currently incarcerated across 49 Indonesian prisons, stopping radicalism from spreading behind bars is difficult with prison officials lacking training.

"We have tried to separate terrorism inmates from the general prison population, even grouping those who share the same ideology and separating them from those with less radical views. But there is no guarantee that this would work because there are a lot of factors at play," he said.

"There are hundreds of terrorism inmates who never return[to radicalism], but there are one or two who have. Just like other inmates [in jail for other crimes], there is no guarantee that the convicts will be reformed once they have served their time."

But penitentiary directorate general spokesman Akbar Hadi Prabowo said building a dedicated prison for terrorism convicts would also pose a huge dilemma.

"If we keep separating [terrorism inmates] they will have less exposure to different views and perspectives and their ideology can never be changed — but if we don't, then radicalism can spread," he said.

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