While the nation is still mourning the victims of last month's devastating earthquake and tsunami in Central Sulawesi, a bombshell allegation has emerged that implicates high-level government officials – including National Police chief Gen. Tito Karnavian – in a bribery scandal. (Reuters Photo/Beawiharta)

Indonesia Plans Crackdown on Condemned Cleric's Militant Network

JUNE 29, 2018

Jakarta. Indonesia's elite counterterrorism squad Densus 88 plans to arrest more than 100 suspected militants in a bid to prevent retaliatory attacks after a radical cleric linked to Islamic State was sentenced to death, National Police chief  Gen. Tito Karnavian said on Thursday (28/06).

Aman Abdurrahman, regarded as the ideological leader of Jemaah Ansharut Daulah, a loose grouping of hundreds of Islamic State sympathizers, was convicted last month for masterminding four deadly attacks in Jakarta and elsewhere in Indonesia.

He has been in prison since 2009 but was accused of orchestrating the attacks from behind bars. No date has been set for Abdurrahman's execution, which is likely to be by firing squad, but in the meantime Indonesian security forces have been put on high alert.

"The price we have to pay is the possibility of his networks retaliating," Tito told Reuters in an interview at the National Police headquarters in Jakarta.

"But the good news is we have detected most of his networks and cells... More than 100 of them will be arrested. We have to move before they move," said Tito, who previously headed Densus 88.

The country has faced a surge in homegrown militancy in recent years and around 30 people were killed in suicide bombings in Surabaya, East Java, last month, marking the deadliest militant attack in over a decade in the Muslim-majority country.

The attacks on three churches and a police station in Surabaya were carried out by families, who took children as young as 8 on their mission, marking the first time such a tactic had been used, according to terrorism experts.

Tito said the authorities had been aware of the risk of female suicide bombers but had no information that a whole family unit or children would be used to carry out bombings.

The families behind the attacks had been monitored by authorities for four months last year, but there had been no suspicious activity involving the children, he said.

Since the Surabaya attacks, the police have detained more than 120 suspects and killed 17.

One key suspect, Kholid Abu Bakar, who officials believe was the leader of the attackers' Islamic study group, remains at large.

Tito said Kholid and his family had attempted to travel to Syria last year to join Islamic State but were caught in Turkey and deported back to Indonesia.

Tito said surveillance teams in Indonesia had now been doubled and provincial police headquarters instructed to set up joint teams involving local-level military, intelligence and paramilitary police. In the wake of the attacks, Indonesia toughened up its anti-terrorism laws last month to allow police to arrest and detain suspected militants for longer periods, and without having to wait until they acquired weapons or carried out attacks.

"It gives us more room to maneuver. It is much, much easier because we don't need to watch and wait until they possess weapons," he said.

But expanded authority or firepower may not always be enough to foil attacks, Tito said, calling for radicalization programs to be strengthened.

"I believe Densus 88 is good enough in monitoring people, foiling plans and investigating attacks ... but there is no use in this hard approach if we cannot change their mindset."