Current laws to combat militancy are inadequate, Indonesian police say
JAKARTA, Indonesia—Indonesian officials are pressing for greater powers to detain militants and sentence them to longer jail terms following terrorist attacks in Jakarta last week.
Neighboring Malaysia has sweeping counterterrorism laws that allow prolonged detention of suspected militants without trial. In Indonesia, a former army-run dictatorship, the democratic government has been wary of passing such laws.
After Thursday’s attacks on Jakarta, though, the dynamic may be changing. On Monday, lawmakers said they would begin a discussion next week about ways to strengthen counterterrorism regulations.
Luhut Pandjaitan,Indonesia’s coordinating minister for political, legal and security affairs, and a former general, has been leading a call for security forces to be given enhanced powers. “Otherwise we’re just like firefighters,” Mr. Pandjaitan told reporters after the latest attacks.
Indonesia’s police, which runs counterterrorism operations, argues that current laws to combat militancy, put in place in 2003, are inadequate.
It isn’t illegal in Indonesia to be a member of Islamic State or to fight for it in Iraq and Syria. The country doesn’t ban hate speech. Police complain they can only arrest suspects once they have committed a crime, such as buying explosives, and are unable to hold suspected militants in preventative detention. Courts often reduce militants’ jail terms, and some of those who are released rejoin the fight.
Four civilians died from the bomb and gun attacks, as well as four assailants. Police initially said there had been five attackers among the dead, but later reclassified one as a civilian.
Two of the militants who died had previously served jail time, police said. The attackers received funding from an Indonesian militantbased in Syria with Islamic State, police said.
Indonesia monitors a number of known terrorist cells, but “if they don’t carry out violent actions, then we can’t take action either,” National Police Chief Badrodin Haiti said last week.
Achmad Sukarsono, an analyst with the U.S.-based political-risk advisory firm Eurasia Group, said Indonesia’s cautious approach to counterterrorism reflects concern about the military again assuming a powerful domestic-security role.
Many Indonesians also have expressed skepticism about the U.S. war on terror, which many saw as an attempt to undermine Islam. But the latest attacks have fueled anger against Islamic militants, opening the door for changes in the laws, Mr. Sukarsono said.
“Indonesians are fed up with terrorism,” he said. “This is refreshingly new and the government will capitalize on it.”
Indonesia formed a special counterterrorism police unit in the mid-2000s with the help of the U.S. and Australia after an attack by al Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiyah in 2002 killed more than 200 peopleon the island of Bali. Police arrested and killed dozens of terrorists from small cells around the country in the ensuing years, reducing militants’ capacity to stage large-scale attacks.
“The counterterrorism fight has been robust after a crime takes place,” Mr. Sukarsono said, “but legally impeded when there’s shaky evidence that a criminal act is in the pipeline.”
That often leaves officials searching for other ways to contain suspected militants. In recent years, Afif Abdul Majid, an Indonesian who was on authorities’ radar screens, traveled to Syria to receive training from Islamic State.
When Mr. Majid returned to Indonesia, authorities had no legal means to charge him for his involvement with Islamic State. In the end, police arrested him for funding a military-training camp in Indonesia’s Aceh province in 2010. Mr. Majid was sentenced last year to four years in prison.
“Police sometimes have to let terrorists perform their crime…to arrest them legitimately,” said Muh Taufiqurrohman, an expert on terrorism at the Jakarta-based Center for Radicalism and Deradicalization Studies.
The head of the state intelligence agency said he needs greater powers to act on intelligence to arrest terrorist suspects. Indonesia’s counterterrorism agency chief has called for hate speech and the provision of money and other assistance to terrorist organizations to be banned.
There has been some progress, including a new regulation in 2013aimed at combating terrorism financing networks. The U.S. State Department, in a report, praised the law but said some elements of the regulation, including provisions to freeze assets, didn’t meet international standards.
President Joko Widodo’s government has expressed interest in strengthening counterterrorism laws but has yet to frame legislation. Political experts say this partly reflects dysfunction in Indonesia’s parliament—a body that passed only three bills in 2015. Mr. Widodo’s energies also have been focused on adeclining economy, not militancy, which had appeared in abeyance. Until Thursday there had been no major attack in Jakarta since 2009.
Indonesia’s antiterrorism forces have been frustrated with other aspects of the judicial process, too, including light sentencing for people convicted of militancy.
“There are question marks over the whole judicial process—from sentencing and the apparent freedom that convicted militants are afforded in prison, through to how parole is granted and those that still harbor extremist views are monitored post-release,” said Hugo Brennan, an analyst for risk advisory firm Verisk Maplecroft.
“If the system was less dysfunctional, there is a chance that the [attacks in Jakarta] may have been prevented,” he said.
Ben Otto & Anita Rachman | Published in The Wall Street Journal, 18 Jan 2016