The Decline of Terrorism in Indonesia?

In December, it was revealed in Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post (SCMP) that the leader of Al-Qaeda’s Indonesian ally, Jemaah Islamiah (JI) – responsible for the 2002 Bali Bombings – was arrested alongside a number of JI’s bomb making experts.

JI have been responsible for nearly all Indonesian terrorist attacks between 1998 and 2010. This was before the gradual waning of the organisation under the efforts of Detachment 88 (Indonesia’s counterterrorism police) who have since 2010 have arrested thousands of JI members. However, until recently, the group have gradually remerged as a result of increased business exploits in mining and palm oil.

The leader was identified as Ustad Arif, who originates from Klaten in Central Java and has been the second JI leader to be arrested in the last two years. His predecessor, Para Wijayanto, was arrested in July 2019 and imprisoned on terrorist charges after ordering JI members to fight for ISIS in Syria.

Following Wijayanto’s arrest, Detachment 88 revealed that he had completely rebuilt and redeveloped JI into a hybrid terrorism business. It is thus advancing; moving away from charitable donations and becoming self-sustainable by developing its own business interests through commercial enterprises – the Palm Oil industry being just one source of revenue. Consequently, under Wijayanto’s leadership, JI generated enough income to pay enticing salaries to its officers which in turn heightened the appeal of Indonesian radicalism.

Moreover, Indonesian police also arrested Upik Lawanga – one of Indonesia’s most infamous bomb makers who had been one of the country’s most wanted for over fourteen years. Upik had been known as the ‘Professor’ and had been one of Dr Azahari Hussein’s most infamous ‘students’.

For clarity, Azahari Hussein was a Malaysian, and designed the bombs used in the 2002 Bali attacks which tragically murdered 202 people. Azahari was later killed in a police shootout in East Java in 2005 after Detachment 88 hunted him down – a remarkable achievement in the fight against extremism due to Azahari being one of the deadliest bomb makers in Southeast Asia. However, security forces were greatly worried that he has cemented his legacy by bestowing his dangerous knowledge onto his students.

Indeed, Lawanaga was testament to such a legacy as he developed a number of deadly IEDs (improvised explosive devices) from Azahari’s designs according to Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay – the former counterterrorism chief of the Royal Malaysian Police’s special branch. Ayob has also noted that many JI members could fully assemble IEDs according to Azahiri’s designs. Upik, for example, was responsible for detonating a number of bombs in Central Suluwesi between 2005 and 2007. In total, it is estimated that Upik has been responsible for the deaths of some 22 people during his activity. Following this period, it is believed that Upik went underground, keeping a low profile in order to avoid police attention and continue Azahari’s legacy.

In addition to this, it has been revealed that on the 10th December, JI leader Aris Sumarsono (AKA Zulkarnaen) had been arrested by Detachment 88 during a raid in Sumatra’s East Lampung district, according to spokesperson Ahmad Ramadhan. Another student of Azahari’s, Zulkarnean was suspected of being another bomb maker of the 2002 Bali attacks as well as the 2003 JW Marriott Hotel attack in Jakarta, which killed 12 people. A notorious jihadi, Zulkarnaen was one of the first Indonesians to train in Afghanistan before 2001 and in the past has been accused of harbouring Upik and Lawanga.

Overall, the Indonesian security forces have generated a large amount of success recently in the hunt for JI while extinguishing the legacy of Azahari Hussein. It will be interesting see how the security services can learn from this recent success of Southeast Asia’s ‘War on Terror’ and continue its momentum.

Disclaimer: This article was originally published in The Trade of Kings

Featured image credit: “Detachment-88” by AK Rockefeller is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0