Jakarta – There's dissension within the ranks of the Jemaah Islamiah (JI) and the Indonesian government is planning to exploit it by wooing disgruntled JI leaders to help it in the war against terror.
According to Indonesia's counter-terror chief, Mr Ansyaad Mbai, many of the militant group's senior leaders are unhappy with the violent direction JI has taken.
"Many leaders within JI and other radical cells are unhappy with bombing activities and want them to stop. The random killing of innocent victims runs counter to Islamic thoughts and, luckily, enough of Indonesia's militant leaders are aware of this crucial fact," he told a seminar on terrorism on Dec 8.
As such, the police and intelligence agencies plan to recruit these disgruntled leaders and other Muslim radicals to help stop militants from recruiting more gullible young men to become suicide bombers.
"These leaders must be the top priority of our long-term strategy to counter terrorist cells and their recruitment strategies. Not everyone who joined JI agreed with terror acts, and if we ostracise these people and condemn them as terrorists, we will lose a potential partner," Mr Ansyaad added.
His views were echoed by Mr Nasir Abas, who was JI's regional leader for eastern Indonesia, Sabah and the southern Philippine province of Mindanao before his arrest in Jakarta in 2003. Since his release from prison after serving a one-year sentence for an immigration offence, Mr Nasir has been campaigning to convince a sceptical Indonesian public of the JI's existence.
According to the ex-JI leader, the militant group was set up by the late Indonesian cleric Abdullah Sungkar while in exile in Malaysia in the early 1990s with the goal of establishing an Islamic state in the region.
Mr Nasir, who has written a book about his life as a JI member, said the country's Muslim scholars should make it clear that bombing civilians is not jihad (holy war) and that the militants have corrupted Islamic teachings.
He added that such groups should be labelled deviant Muslims, rather than terrorists, as many members believe that their violence in justified by Islam. "The term terrorist does not scare them, in fact, it makes them feel proud," Mr Nasir added.
* Jakarta to recruit disgruntled JI leaders (The Straits Times, Dec 9)