This analysis was published in the Counter Terrorist Trends and Analysis (CTTA), a journal of the International Center for Political Violence and Terrorism Research (ICPVTR) of the Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore
Throughout 2015, Indonesia continued to experience militancy and a steady growth of supporters for the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), particularly in the provinces of East Java, Lampung in Sumatra, South, West and Central Sulawesi. The Indonesian government, especially the police, as well as Shi’ite, Buddhist and Christian communities, remained the main targets of terrorist attacks. Detachment 88, Indonesia’s counter terrorism unit, made at least 57 arrests and killed some five members of the Mujahidin Indonesia Timur (MIT) an ISIS linked terrorist group led by Santoso operating out of Poso.
On 14 January 2016, a team of four men armed with explosions and guns carried out a terrorist attack on an affluent shopping area on MH Thamrin Street in Central Jakarta. The attacks killed eight people, including the four attackers and four civilians, and injured at least 24 others. The attackers were all killed following a rapid counter attack conducted by Indonesian police. ISIS claimed responsibility for this attack, saying that it had sent its fighters to kill Indonesian police and foreigners whom ISIS viewed as being a part of the crusader coalition. This was the first major attack in the country targeting foreigners after the July 2009 hotel bombings in Jakarta. One of the attackers is believed to be Afif alias Sunakim, a student of Aman Abdurrahman, ISIS’ spiritual leader who is based in Indonesia. The others include Muhamad Ali, Ahmad Muhazan bin Saroni and Dian Joni Kurniadi. Bahrun Naim, the mastermind of the attack, is believed to be in Syria.
In 2015, Indonesian authorities foiled a number of attacks, including a planned bombing on 17 August 2015 in Central Java. Unfortunately, Indonesian authorities failed to prevent the killings of three civilians in Central Sulawesi in September 2015. These attacks were encouraged by ISIS leaders or directed by Indonesians fighting for ISIS in Syria. Police believe that the foiled Central Java bombing in particular was funded and directed by Bahrun Naim of ISIS’ external operations wing. The attacks were targeted at the Pasar Kliwon police precinct, a church, and a Confucian temple in Solo. The assailants intended to bring chaos in the province during Indonesia’s Independence Day festival. The motivations for the attacks and killings so far appear to be linked to a combination of factors, including the Indonesian police crackdown on suspected terrorists, and ISIS supporters’ perceived oppression and persecution of Muslims.Despite these attempts and attacks, the capability of ISIS supporters to launch large scale attacks appears to be limited. As evidenced in the case of the foiled bomb attack in Central Java in August, the perpetrators had learned to make rudimentary bombs following instructions on a website. Nonetheless, this has not deterred ISIS supporters in Indonesia from preparing for attacks in the future. In October 2015, ISIS supporters reportedly conducted military training sessions for some 71 men in the Bogor area, West Java. Given present trends, ISIS supporters will remain the likely perpetrators of terrorist attacks in Indonesia although these attacks may be limited in terms of scale and scope. The Indonesian police, Christian, Shi’ite and Buddhist communities will continue to remain the primary targets of these attacks, together with the U.S. and other countries that are involved in airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Additionally, the Syrian conflict continues to inspire interest in militant jihad among Indonesian ISIS supporters. A handful of these, when arrested, told the police about their interest to link up with MIT militants based in Poso. The majority of these supporters prefer moving to Poso than to Syria due to the geographical proximity and costs of migrating to Poso as compared to Syria.
Finally, ISIS supporters in East Java, West Nusa Tenggara and South Sulawesi have established a network of support among the locals in Poso with safe houses and other logistics. As such,this has enabled them to move into Poso to provide MIT with the manpower and financial support.
Tactics and Targets
The grouping of its supporters into public and private fronts, the frequent changing of the group’s name, the use of sophisticated communication platforms, and the recruitment of women for logistical support constituted some of the key tactics employed by ISIS supporters in Indonesia in 2015. This reflects a shift from 2014, when ISIS supporters openly expressed their support for ISIS even on social media platforms.
Support for ISIS in Indonesia has manifested itself on two fronts, both publicly and privately.The public front, which gathers around an organisation called Panitia Bersama Pembela dan Pendukung Khilafah (the Joint Committee of Caliphate Defenders and Supporters), advertises itself as a moderate Islamic organisation. In contrast, the private front is centred on a group called Junud Daulah Islamiyah Nusantara (the Army of the State in the Archipelago).
Junud Daulah Islamiyah Nusantara conducts secret meetings, military trainings, and has been involved in planning attacks. Its members have also been drafting plans to migrate to Syria.
ISIS supporters in Indonesia have frequently united under different names to evade detection by authorities. In 2014, ISIS supporters mostly gathered under the banner of the Forum Komunikasi Aktivis Syariat Islam (the Forum of Activist for Islamic Sharia/FAKSI) and Umat Islam Nusantara (Islamic Community in the Archipelago). In 2015, when the Indonesian police began arresting prominent figures of these two groups, ISIS supporters changed the group’s name to Forum Komunikasi Dunia Islam (the Communication Forum of Islamic World/FKDI).
The FKDI, led by Syamsudin Uba, a Bekasi based ISIS preacher, changed its name to Panitia Bersama Pembela dan Pendukung Khilafah and came under the collective leadership of Syamsudin Uba, Fauzan Al Anshari, Nanang Ainur Rofiq, Abu Nusaybah, Abu Mush’ab, Abu Abdillah and Anwar. In addition to that, ISIS supporters also refer to themselves as Anshor Khilafah (Helpers of the Caliphate), Anshor Daulah Indonesia (Indonesian Helpers of the Islamic State) and Anshor Daulah Nusantara (Helpers of the Islamic State in the Archipelago).
There has also been a noticeable shift in ISIS supporters’ preferred mode of communication. In 2014, ISIS supporters mostly used online forums, as well as social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. In 2015, ISIS supporters have shifted to the use of mobile messaging application services ranging from Blackberry Messenger, WhatsApp to Telegram. Harnessing encrypted platforms for communication has enabled ISIS supporters to evade detection by authorities a lesson that they learnt from the mistakes of Indonesian jihadists who exposed themselves in the past to the police by communicating openly through Facebook. ISIS supporters share religious teaching, intelligence and military training materials via Daulah Islamiyah Baqiyyah, a WhatsApp chat group and Wa Iddu, a Telegram chat group.In addition, compared to 2014 in which men were involved heavily in running ISIS networks in Indonesia, in 2015, women within the community of ISIS supporters in Indonesia played important managerial and logistical roles. The women are also responsible for providing logistics and for assisting ISIS supporters with organising gatherings and fundraising activities on the ground. In January 2015, police arrested the wife of a Poso based ISIS supporter and member of the MIT who was reportedly assisting MIT’s military training participants.
Despite a relatively strong facade, the community of ISIS supporters in Indonesia appear to be beset by internal divisions, mostly stemming from power struggles and security related paranoia; sources of which may serve to drive the groups apart.
The divisions and dissentions have divided ISIS supporters into several factions. The various factions are unable to come to an agreement on attack strategy and thus are incapable of successfully executing any large scale attacks so far. The growth of mistrust and suspicion among the ISIS supporters may bring about further divisions among ISIS supporters.
Flow of Indonesians into Syria
Despite the efforts of the Indonesian police and the Turkish government, ISIS supporters in Indonesia continue to go to Syria. According an estimate by the Indonesian National Police, at least 384 Indonesians have joined ISIS so far, with 70 of them having returned to Indonesia. Some of these returnees, such as Afif Abdul Majid, have been arrested and sentenced to four years imprisonment. However, he was sentenced not for joining ISIS but for his involvement with other terrorism activities, including the 2010 Aceh military camp. Some others, like Syamsudin Uba, live freely and continue to recruit people for ISIS. This has been a major weakness in Indonesia’s criminal justice system and a significant security concern from a counter terrorism perspective. Moreover, ISIS supporters have managed to circumvent restrictions through discussions on group chats on mobile messaging applications to disseminate tips for evading the Indonesian police’s monitoring and surveillance and the Turkish security apparatus’ screening or ambush.
The flow of Indonesians to Syria highlights the rise in ISIS supporters and the need for the Indonesian government to take further steps to deter and disrupt existing ISIS supporters and would be ISIS supporters. The emergence of groups with new names reflect the need for the Indonesian government to shift away from targeting extremists in Indonesia using a group based approach to targeting extremists at the individual level. The fact that women have increasingly become involved in terrorist activities in the country also reinforces the need for intervention; from both the Indonesian government and by the society at large.
The presence and activities of ISIS supporters indicate the need for close monitoring and surveillance brought about by the mobilisation of security resources and the transferability of such resources towards a national database. Ideally, this database should be shared among security agencies and immigration office so as to facilitate the enforcement of restrictions on persons linked to ISIS and to prevent those planning to plot terrorist attacks from entering.
More importantly, as violent radicalisation remains a key challenge for the country, the Indonesian government and parliament should start working together to pass legislations regulating the laws against speech and narratives that lead to exclusivist practices, including justifications for the killings of those with a different belief system.
Muh Taufiqurrohman is a Senior Researcher with the Centre for Radicalism and Deradicalisation Studies (PAKAR), a non governmental organisation based in Indonesia.