Terror Continues to Haunt Indonesia

Updated On: Jul 10, 2007

It is not even a month after the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) kingpins Zarkasih and Abu Dujana were arrested, and now an alert has been sounded regarding the Al-Qaeda affiliated group’s potential terror attacks inIndonesia.

The alert came from the Australian government. On Sunday, Prime Minister John Howard announced that “There is intelligence about a possible JI attack in Indonesia and we have to give a warning”. While there is no precise information about a target or time for an attack, Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said that “particular care should be taken at this time to avoid known terrorist targets” including soft targets like Bali and Jakarta. He recommended that Australians in Indonesia and Bali should consider departing, and that those travelling there should exercise extreme caution.

PM Howard acknowledged the potential political implications the official advisory could have. “We are the last country in the world to want to say anything unnecessarily serious about Indonesia becauseIndonesia is a friendly country," he said on Nine Network television. “But we have, above all of that, a great obligation to warn our citizens if we think there is the possibility of something happening,” reported AP.

The forecast warns against complacency in the wake of the two high-level JI arrests. A month ago, terrorist police captured JI’s leader Zarkasih and military commander Abu Dujana. “There have been recent arrests of high-level terrorist operatives in Indonesia, but we assess terrorists are continuing active planning of attacks”, the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs said in its travel advisory. Antara quoted an unnamed JI member telling the English-language Al-Jazeera TV channel that the lack of leadership could make the organisation more dangerous, as those on the ground get impatient without clear instructions from the top. Moreover, as Terrorism Focus reports, JI is remarkably resilient, with the ability to adapt to crackdown efforts by authorities.

The trouble with capturing JI bigwigs is that it does not reduce the threat of terrorism for long. After the initial shock, leadership is reshuffled, resolve hardens, the group adapts and activity continues. New Straits Times reported that a recent survey by The Wahid Institute and Indo Barometer found that 2.7 per cent of Indonesian Muslims believe terrorism is allowed under the teachings of Islam. It quoted Mohamad Qodari of Indo Barometer saying “The number is small but 2.7 per cent of Muslims in this country means four million people. This is dangerous.”

Even more subversive is that JI operatives are embedded within communities, spreading their influence and resource base through schools, kinship networks, and economic activities. The Straits Times reported JI links running through various Indonesia businesses, ranging from industrial to media houses to consumption and household goods, a “marked departure for a group that had long relied on foreign sources of funds and criminal acts”, it said. Previously the group managed bomb attacks on a “shoestring budget” of just over US$20,000 (S$30,400), but with this new development of business linkages, “having a stream of income could make it more lethal”. The Straits Times also identified “an intricate pattern of kinship” within the network, buoyed by friendships formed in JI-affiliated Islamic boarding schools, and cemented in marriages between JI members to each others’ sisters and daughters. Such under-the-radar economic, communication and social linkages are not easy to trace, and even more difficult to crack down upon, because “Unless we have proof that these businesses are helping terrorist activities, we cannot move on them,” said the head of Indonesia's Counter Terrorism Agency Inspector-General Ansyaad Mbai, reported the Straits Times.

Indeed, authorities are battling with more than a dynamic, hyper-resilient organization with enormous potential for violence. They must tackle the deep appeal Islamic fundamentalism has for sections of the population who find the secular state to be disappointing, alienating, and even exploitative. The New Straits Times explained that  “Those with radical leanings believe the most pressing problems like poverty and the high cost of basic goods will disappear if syariah is implemented in Indonesia, which has existed as a secular state since its birth in 1945.” Executive director of The Wahid Institute Yenny Wahid, thinks the issue is in the Indonesian government’s inattention to radical groups. “They are busy promoting Indonesia as a moderate Muslim country, where the people are friendly and smiling but behind the smile is a bomb.” She warned that “If this situation is not dealt with, it will not be improbable that a social explosion will occur at some point,” quoted the New Straits Times. Till then, Indonesia and the rest ofSoutheast Asia must continue vigorous initiatives against the concealed threat of terror in the region.  (9 July 2007)


JI turns to business to help fund activities (Straits Times, 9 July 2007)

Close ties bind JI together (Straits Times, 9 July 2007)

Australia's Howard defends Indonesia terror warning, despite no evidence of plot (AP, 9 July 2007)

JI plans terror attacks: Downer (Canberra Times, 9 July 2007)

Indonesia travel alarm (AAP, 9 July 2007)

A fight for hearts, minds of Indonesia’s Muslims (New Straits Times, 9 July 2007)

Indonesian terrorist threat serious: PM (AAP, 9 July 2007)

Australia issues Indonesian terror alert (Antara, 8 July 2007)

Indonesia Marks Successes in Terrorism Fight (National Public Radio, 4 July 2007)

JI Weakened, Yet Potential for Violence Remains (Terrorism Focus, 3 July 2007)

Indonesian police say 2 top terrorists arrested last week (AP, 15 June 2007)