Jakarta. Homegrown terror group Jamaah Ansharut Daulah made headlines once more with last week's daylight attack by one of its members on Chief Security Minister Wiranto.
The shadowy group has been the most active of its kind in Indonesia over the past few years, and it is believed to have been behind the terror attack in Jalan Thamrin in Central Jakarta in January 2016, a church bombing in Samarinda, East Kalimantan, in November 2016, a suicide bombing at a bus shelter in Kampung Melayu, East Jakarta, in May 2017, armed assaults on policemen in Bima, West Nusa Tenggara, in September 2017, and coordinated suicide bombings on three churches by six members of the same family in Surabaya, East Java, in May last year.
The United States government designated JAD a terrorist organization in January 2017, in a move to disrupt Islamic State operations in Southeast Asia.
On July 31 last year, following the horrifying attacks on the three churches in Surabaya by parents and their four young children, the South Jakarta District Court declared JAD an organization committed to acts of terror, with proven ties to the radical Islamic State group, and ordered its immediate disbandment under the 2002 Anti-Terrorism Law.
Based on the court ruling, all JAD members can face criminal charges, even if they never carried out attacks.
State prosecutors told the court that JAD was founded by terror convict Aman Abdurrahman in October 2014, while imprisoned on Nusakambangan Island in Central Java. It also emerged that the group's members had pledged allegiance to Abu Bakar Al Baghdadi, the leader of Islamic State.
"It is a fact that around October 2014, Aman Abdurrahman invited Marwan, alias Abu Musa, and Zainal Anshori, alias Abu Fahry, to visit him at Kembang Kuning Prison on Nusakambangan Island, during which the defendant told them about the Islamic State movement, led by Abu Bakar Al Baghdadi, and called on all Muslims to support it," according to the prosecution statement.
It was Marwan who came up with the name Jamaah Ansharut Daulah, which means Partisans of the (Islamic) State, to facilitate supporters of a caliphate in Indonesia and Syria. After the organizational structure was formed in November 2014, Marwan appointed Zainal to succeed him as JAD leader, as he planned to depart for Syria to wage jihad, prosecutors said.
Death Row Convict
Aman was first convicted under the Anti-Terrorism Law, after an improvised explosive device detonated at his rented home in Depok, West Java, in 2004. He was sentenced to seven years' imprisonment.
In 2010, he was also found guilty of having funded paramilitary training by militants in Jalin village in Aceh's Jantho district.
On Aug. 18, 2017, just a day after he walked out of prison, thanks to Independence Day sentence cuts, Detachment 88, the National Police's elite anti-terrorism squad, rearrested him on charges of inciting his followers to carry out the attack in Jalan Thamrin that resulted in the deaths of four civilians and the four attackers.
Nearly a year later, he received his third terror conviction, which saw him sentenced to death for a series of attacks JAD had carried out between 2016 and 2017.
Aman, 47, has denied any role in the attacks, saying he only encouraged his followers to take part in martyrdom in Syria. However, he refused to appeal his death sentence.
In his defense prior to the verdict, Aman said he would not object to a conviction for supporting a caliphate and opposing the government, but denied any role in terror attacks, as no witnesses had testified to that effect in the court. He was also in prison when those attacks occurred.
Even before the verdict was issued on June 22 last year, Aman told his attorney that he wanted to be executed soon.
"Once the verdict is in, please arrange my execution immediately," Aman's lawyer, Asludin Hatjani, quoted what his client had told him after the court hearing.
Aman established JAD as a home for Islamic State sympathizers in Indonesia, to prepare for the arrival of the caliphate movement in the archipelago, and to assist those who wanted to wage jihad in Syria and Iraq.
Being in prison did not limit his ability to arrange a major gathering of JAD members in Batu near Malang, East Java, in November 2015. He reportedly followed the meeting using a cell phone, and instructed his followers to prepare themselves for attacks and jihad in Indonesia.
Since then, JAD has emerged as a new major threat outclassing earlier groups, such as Jemaah Ansharut Tauhid, East Indonesia Mujahideen (MIT) and even al Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiyah, the group behind the deadly October 2002 bombings in Bali.
Over the past few years, JAD attacks have not followed a specific pattern; the group's members randomly picked targets, such as churches, police personnel and public facilities.
JAD has now earned a reputation for involving family members – either children or spouses – in attacks.
Only hours after the May 13, 2018, triple church bombings in Surabaya by the six-member family, a bomb accidentally exploded at a multi-story housing complex in nearby Sidoarjo, killing a woman and her daughter. Her husband was shot dead by police, who immediately raided the scene afterwards, as he was holding a detonator. Their couple's three other children, aged between 10 and 15, were rescued from the house. Police confirmed that the family were JAD members.
The following morning, five members of another family blew themselves up on two motorcycles at the gate of the Surabaya Metropolitan Police headquarters. One of the children survived after being thrown from the bike by the blast.
In March, a woman detonated a bomb, instantly killing herself and her 2-year-old child, after police arrested her husband and surrounded their house in Sibolga, North Sumatra.
JAD is not only active in Indonesia. A married couple, identified as Rullie Rian Zeke and Ulfah Handayani Saleh of South Sulawesi, carried out a suicide bombing at a church in the Philippines in July. The National Police later confirmed their involvement in the terror group.
It therefore did not surprise police when they learned that Syahril Alamsyah was accompanied by his wife Fitri Andriana when he attacked Minister Wiranto in Pandeglang, Banten, on Thursday last week.
Another factor that distinguishes JAD from other terror groups is that its members do not bother to conceal their identities when launching attacks, a former member of Jemaah Islamiyah told the Jakarta Globe on Saturday.
"They are different technically when launching attacks – they carry their real identity cards, with no intention to hide anything," said Iqbal Hussaini, who was previously jailed for smuggling weapons from the southern Philippines to members of Jemaah Islamiyah in Indonesia.
But this difference does not necessarily make JAD better than others, according to the man who goes by several aliases and has spent years in jail on two terror convictions.
Iqbal, alias Ramli, alias Adrian Alamsyah, alias Rian, alias Rambo, speculated that JAD members be recruited instantly, without a comprehensive understanding of jihad, so they carry out attacks with little preparation.
Another former Jamaah Islamiah member shared his views, saying JAD members tended to attack in a hurry, without proper planning.
In the past, militant groups carefully selected their members, according to Ali Fauzi, the stepbrother of Bali bombing trio Mukhlas, Amrozi and Ali Imron. Two of his brothers have been executed by firing squad, while Ali Imron is serving a life sentence for the twin bombings in Bali that killed at least 202 people.
"The recruitment used to be conducted face to face, including the pledge of allegiance. Only people of the same family, school, or congregation could be considered as members," Ali Fauzi said. "In the digital era today, recruiters work through Facebook, Instagram or Telegram without the need to meet in person."
Ali, a doctoral candidate at Muhammadiyah University in Malang, pointed out that Jamaah Islamiah normally spent considerable time and money to in preparation for an attack, from field surveys and assembling car bomb or vest bombs, to the search for potential suicide bombers.
"It's no longer a complicated issue nowadays. Anyone interested can join easily. More often than not, their attacks had been low-key, using knives or machetes," he said.
"On the other hand, these types of attacks are more dangerous, because they are also much harder to detect. This is the real challenge facing the BNPT [National Counterterrorism Agency], Detachment 88, and all of us," he said. "The knife attack in Pandeglang is not a trivial matter. It was an attack on a senior minister, a state symbol."
How is JAD still relevant after the Islamic State has largely been defeated in Syria and Iraq?
"To its followers, establishing an Islamic state is a matter of ideology, which never dies. It is the same story with the Indonesian Islamic State [NII]. Kartosuwiryo has long died, but the ideology remains," Ali said, referring to Sekarmadji Maridjan Kartosuwiryo, who led the Darul Islam rebellion against the Indonesian government between 1949 and 1962.
New details have emerged from Thursday's attack on Wiranto. According to National Police spokesman Brig. Gen. Dedi Prasetyo, Syahril, alias Abu Rara, did not even have prior knowledge that the chief security minister was his target.
"They prepared the attack instantly. He told our investigators that he had seen a helicopter arriving and a big crowd of people gathering at the square," Dedi said on Friday.
"He said, 'I don't know who he is, but that's our target,'" the police spokesman added, quoting the suspect.
Syahril immediately set a plan in motion, telling his wife that he would attack the person arriving on the helicopter, and that she should attack any policemen trying to intervene, Dedi said.
"Their home is just 300 meters from the square. Three of them went there: Abu Rara, his wife and their child," Dedi said.
"Lone wolves" are very hard to detect, "not a single country can prevent this type of attack," the spokesman said.
The couple was determined to put up a fierce fight and become martyrs at the hands of police equipped with firearms. They arrived at the scene with a knife and a pair of scissors – the only weapons they had available at home at the time, Dedi said.