Police officers present items seized from a young Islamic State supporter, last week in Jambi. (Antara Photo/Wahdi Septiawan)

Questions Over IS Spread Amid Further Arrests


MARCH 25, 2015

Jakarta/Malang/Makassar. Calls continue to mount for the government to take a more aggressive stance against domestic supporters of the extremist group Islamic State, as two people linked to the militant movement were arrested in Malang, East Java, on Wednesday.

"We need early preventive measures to tackle [terror] threats through the spread of radical teaching, be they from outside the country or those developed inside the country," Tantowi Yahya, a legislator with the Golkar Party, said on Wednesday.

"The law must serve as a legal basis for the security forces to do their duty of preventing terrorism and radicalism when they're still at an embryonic stage. The issues concerning ISIS are no longer an illusion — they're now happening before our very eyes."

Tantowi, a deputy chairman of the House of Representatives (DPR) Commission I, which oversees security and foreign affairs, was echoing grievances first aired earlier this month by security officials who blamed shortcomings in prevailing anti-terror legislation for their inability to detain and charge Indonesians suspected of traveling to the Middle East to join the jihadist movement.

Officials are currently only able to charge such individuals if they are implicated in other alleged crimes, such as terrorism-related activities at home or document forgery in order to obtain a passport to travel.

Abdullah Mahmud Hendropriyono, a former head of the State Intelligence Agency, or BIN, said the existing legal shortcomings needed to be addressed if Indonesia was to tackle what he called "a threat to democracy" posed by Islamic State's extremist ideology.

"The destruction of a country doesn't happen because of the actions of a group of people, but because of the inaction of the rest," he said, adding that Indonesian security officials also must step up cooperation with their counterparts from other countries to curb the threat from Islamic State.

He also argued the need for Indonesia to pass the controversial national security bill to bolster existing anti-terror statutes, dismissing rights activists' concerns that the bill would allow abuses of power by the security forces, reminiscent of a similar law rolled out by the New Order regime to suppress political opposition to the late strongman Suharto.

Deliberations over the new bill have been stalled at the House for years amid opposition to it.

Security agenda

Haris Azhar, the coordinator of the human rights watchdog the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence, or Kontras, believes that neither a new security law nor a revision to the existing anti-terror law is necessary to curb the potential threats posed by Islamic State to Indonesia.

"The existing law is enough. What we need to question is whether security officials, including police and intelligence agents, are doing their job of eradicating terrorism," he said.

Haris added that preventive steps could be taken by arresting suspected Indonesian members of Islamic State as soon as they returned to Indonesia, to stop them from recruiting other Indonesians to join the group's cause.

Yon Mahmudi, an observer of political Islam at the University of Indonesia (UI), agrees that lack of coordination among Indonesia's security and intelligence agencies has allowed Islamic State's radical ideology to take root here.

He argues that the various counterterrorism forces — the police's Densus 88, the National Counterterrorism Agency, or BNPT, and the office of the chief security minister — have to date been working largely out of sync from one another.

"The problem lies in coordination. Densus, the BNPT and [the security ministry] each have strong institutional egos. As a result, they've failed to synergize their forces in curbing radicalism," Yon said. "In the future they must all be able to synergize."

Calls for tougher anti-terrorism and security laws now are no different than those made in 2011 for a revision of the intelligence law, in the wake of a string of terror attacks, Haris said. He accused intelligence officials of seeking to expand their power and using the Islamic State threat as a pretext.

"And this is happening again now. In the end, all they want is for the national security bill to be passed into law," Haris said.

No room to grow?

The government has floated the idea of revoking the citizenship of any Indonesian known to have joined Islamic State, but critics have questioned the effectiveness of such a move in preventing the spread of extremist ideology at home.

"This is a dangerous [plan] because who gets to say who is a radical and who isn't?" said Mahfudz Siddiq, the House Commission I chairman, from the Islamic-based Prosperous Justice Party, or PKS.

"The assessment may come out too subjective," he added.

He also said he did not believe Islamic State, waging a war in Syria and Iraq posed a considerable threat to Indonesia.

"There's no way [Islamic State] wants to make Indonesia a part of their operations. Their base is in the Middle East. Their aim is to build a caliphate and they must do that in Arab countries, they think the caliphate must be led by Arabs," he said. "Their can't possibly grow in Indonesia. Indonesia is too far for them to expand here."

New arrests

Densus, though, sees things differently. On Wednesday, the police's elite counterterrorism squad arrested two men in the East Java town of Malang for alleged links to Islamic State.

That followed the arrests of six other people in Jakarta's satellite cities over the past week for their alleged ties to Abu Jandal, also known as Salim Mubarok Attamimi, an Indonesian known to be fighting with Islamic State and who has appeared in an online video calling for a war against the Indonesian security forces and for other Indonesians to join in the campaign to carve out a caliphate in the Middle East.

One of those arrested in Malang, Abdul Hakim Munabari, 45, is said by police to have recently returned to Indonesia after having joined Islamic State with Abu Jandal.

"Abdul just got back from Syria," Comr. Gen. Badrodin Haiti, the National Police deputy chief, said on Wednesday. "We will begin to question him. We will do all we can to prevent IS ideology from spreading in Indonesia."

The second man arrested on Wednesday, identified only as Helmi, 51, is alleged to have had a role in either making or distributing the video featuring Abu Jandal.

Reviving an old cause

Indonesia has been grappling with holdouts from an earlier wave of domestic terrorism in Central Sulawesi province, where the country's most-wanted fugitive, Santoso, continues to evade capture by the police even as he organizes paramilitary training camps in the jungles around Poso district.

On Wednesday, police declared an "Islamic State alert" for South Sulawesi and West Sulawesi provinces, citing both regions as the traditional heartland of sympathizers of the now-defunct Darul Islam/Indonesian Islamic Military, an Islamist separatist movement that emerged during the early years of Indonesia's independence.

"We've declared an 'IS alert' across all districts in South and West Sulawesi, where police are maximizing all preventive measures," Sr. Comr. Endi Sutendi, a spokesman for the two provinces' joint police force, said in Makassar, South Sulawesi, on Wednesday.

He did not elaborate on the preventive measures, and said no arrests had been made in connection with any Islamic State-related activity.

Yon of the University of Indonesia said some of the known Islamic State sympathizers in Indonesia were "old players" who had always advocated the idea of an Islamic caliphate, as espoused by DI/TII and later the Indonesian Islamic State, or NII.

"If you look at the root of the movement in Indonesia, it's quite old. [An Islamic state] was previously campaigned for by NII, but then the government managed to sideline the group and weaken it," Yon said.

"The emergence of IS has created a sort of a new hope for these weakened groups because of the promise of strong funding. That's why among those arrested [in connection with Islamic State] are people wanted by the police in old cases. They're trying to revive their ideology."

At least 19 small Muslim groups in Indonesia have either pledged their allegiance to Islamic State or sympathize with it, according to Rohan Gunaratna, the head of the International Center for Political Violence and Terrorism Research at Singapore's Nanyang Technological University.

They include Santoso's East Indonesia Mujahideen, and Jamaah Ansharut Tauhid, led by imprisoned terrorist and firebrand cleric Abu Bakar Bashir.