Indonesia is making it harder for IS returnees to make it back to their homeland, but the law says the state cannot deny them citizenship. (Antara Photo/Zabur Karuru)

How Can Islamic State Returnees Make It Back to Indonesia, Legally?

MARCH 29, 2019

Jakarta. Even as its dream of creating a caliphate lies in tatters, the Islamic State is still causing major headaches for the Indonesian government. Many of its citizens had joined IS at its heyday, but now most of them have been abandoned and are on the brink of being stateless.

There have been pressures on the government to welcome the IS returnees, but it also has plenty of reasons to fear the spread of their extremist views if they are allowed back into the country.

Reports of IS sympathizers and fighters, including Indonesians, attempting to return to their homelands have surfaced after the fall of the regime's last stronghold in Baghouz, Syria, to the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). 

It is estimated that hundreds of Indonesians are still stranded in Syria, in refugee camps or on the run with the last remaining IS fighters. 

Among these Indonesian IS sympathizers are Mariam Abdullah, a mother of four from Bandung, and her husband Saifuddin, and dozens of others seeking protection at the Al-Hol refugee camp in eastern Syria, BBC reported. 

Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Arrmanatha Nasir, however, said Indonesia may not be so quick to extend a diplomatic hand to help these IS rejects. 

"I have not received all the information. Many people speak Indonesian [at the camp] and there are many Mariams there. We can't determine yet if someone is an Indonesian citizen or not. There's a long procedure to make that decision," he said.

Losing all of its territory in Syria does not mean that the IS caliphate dream has now come to an end, experts say. Its manpower, ideology and financial resources remain a looming threat. 

Early this month, an Indonesian woman with affiliations to the Islamic State blew herself up and two of her children in Sibolga, North Sumatra, after the National Police uncovered a terror attack plot involving her husband and his network of underground terrorists. 

In May last year, a family of six who had come back from Syria, where they sought to live under IS, carried out suicide bomb attacks on two churches in Surabaya.  

But some of the IS returnees have also shared harrowing experiences of living under IS with the Indonesian public, and even joined government efforts to stem its radical ideology.

The Indonesian government has already taken steps to prevent IS returnees from spreading their newfound ideology in their homeland.

Indonesians who went to Syria to join IS must go through a citizenship verification process before they are allowed to return to Indonesia. The lengthy process involves collaborations between the Foreign Affairs Ministry, the National Police, the National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT) and the State Intelligence Agency (BIN).

"Their citizenship must be verified first, and then they will be interviewed again to find out if they have to go through a deradicalization process. There are many stages [they have to go through], both in Syria and in Indonesia. From there, we will determine whether or not they will be allowed to return [to Indonesia]," Armanatha said.

He said some Indonesian IS sympathizers had entered Syria illegally without official documents, making it hard to find out the exact number of Indonesian citizens in Syria.

Legally, Indonesia has no reason to deny them citizenship. The country has already thrown its support behind United Nations' efforts to reduce statelessness. Its 2018 Law on Acts of Terrorism only bars issuing passports to terror convicts for a limited period.

Even if the IS sympathizers denounced their Indonesian citizenship and swore loyalty to IS, they are still considered Indonesian citizens under the country's 2006 Law on Citizenship, simply because IS is not a sovereign country recognized by Indonesia. 

"There are those who say these people can be regarded as foreign terrorist fighters and that for that reason their passports can be revoked. But we cannot [deny them citizenship] because our law does not recognize statelessness," Law and Human Rights Minister Yasona Laoly said earlier this week.