10 Years After Bali Bombings, Local Militants Still Pose Threat
Ansyaad Mbai, the director of the National Counterterrorism Agency here, has a genealogy of terrorism spread across his office wall. It starts in 1949, the year Dutch colonizers acknowledged Indonesia’s independence, and extends to 2011.
Like a family tree, it begins with one line and gradually branches out into an increasingly complex web with names and photographs of the country’s most notorious terrorists.
“It’s like a database, the framework to coordinate intelligence,” he said.
But lately the database has expanded beyond the boundaries of the chart, as smaller, more local groups with different objectives than those of their al-Qaeda-affiliated predecessors drive the terrorist threat.
In the 10 years since Islamic militants blew up two nightclubs on the resort island of Bali, killing 202 people, Indonesian security forces have arrested more than 700 people on suspicion of being militants and killed about 60.
All the major suspects in the Bali attacks on Oct. 12, 2002, have been killed or imprisoned.
Analysts say operations by Detachment 88, the elite counterterrorism squad trained by the United States and Australia, and formed shortly after the Bali blasts, have helped cripple Jemaah Islamiyah, the Southeast Asian offshoot of al-Qaeda responsible for the bombings.
The discovery in 2010 of a paramilitary training camp in the Indonesian province of Aceh that brought together a number of major militant groups also hurt extremist organizations, inspiring a nationwide dragnet that led to the arrest and conviction of about 200 terrorism suspects, according to the International Crisis Group, a nongovernmental organization that has studied radical activity in the country.
But while the security forces’ efforts and internal rifts have left Jemaah Islamiyah weakened, some disaffected individuals and members of extremist groups have moved to form new cells and seek new recruits.
Their overarching goal, analysts say, remains to establish an Islamic state in Indonesia. The country is predominantly Muslim but has a secular government. For many, however, the focus is also on exacting revenge against the security forces for the crackdown.
The Crisis Group says many of these new groups are small and ad hoc, and while they still seek inspiration and material support from large jihadist organizations, they act independently.
“The threat we’ve seen recently is manageable and is being managed, but it’s hard to extinguish,” said Jim Della-Giacoma, the Crisis Group’s Southeast Asia project director. “There are still individuals with such radical ideas that they want to use violence, and still groups out there thinking of Western targets.”
There have been more than a dozen terrorist plots since 2010, according to a recent Crisis Group report. In March, the counterterrorism police killed five men on Bali who analysts say had been radicalized in prison. Security officials say the men were planning a series of robberies to finance a future attack on the island.
The police have stepped up security in recent days after receiving intelligence of a possible attack Friday during commemorations of the 2002 Bali bombings.
Attacks since the last major blast — in 2009, when Islamists bombed the JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels in Jakarta, killing seven people — have been less damaging, as in the cases of two suicide bombers last year: one struck a mosque in a police compound and the other a church, but they killed only themselves.
Still, they have raised concerns about the apparent ease with which small groups of extremists can form.
Analysts say radical clerics spread their message and seek recruits through gatherings like study groups. Internet forums and prisons also serve as places for recruitment.
“They’re targeting those who have no critical thinking, people searching for an identity,” said Noor Huda Ismail, founder of the Institute for International Peace Building, which tries to rehabilitate people who have served prison terms on terrorism charges by finding them jobs.
Huda, who attended an Islamic boarding school founded by a radical cleric, Abu Bakar Bashir, said many hard-line groups have charismatic leaders who cite perceived injustices against Muslims to justify violence against the government or target religions they deem antagonistic to Islam.
While the police have largely been successful in recent years in stopping plots, analysts say, combating the ideologies behind them has proved more difficult.
Most of Indonesia’s 240 million people practice a moderate form of Islam. But the blossoming of democracy after the longtime strongman Suharto stepped down from the presidency in 1998 permitted more militant expressions of Islam.
Dozens of deadly attacks occurred from 1999 to 2005, when a second bombing in Bali killed 20 people.
Security analysts say the focus now needs to be on prevention.
“We need a comprehensive strategy that looks at how extremist clerics get access to vulnerable groups,” said Sidney Jones, a senior adviser at the Crisis Group.
Bashir, the radical cleric who was a founder of the Jemaah Islamiyah movement, is now serving a 15-year prison term for helping set up the terrorist training camp in Aceh. Still, he frequently makes statements from prison that are widely circulated.
Over the past decade the government has run small programs that involve discussions between prisoners and moderate Islamic preachers and provide economic help to their families.
Another, run by a group of nongovernmental organizations led by the US-based Search for Common Ground, has tutored convicted terrorists in conflict management. But some who have worked on such programs say they are too small and lack wider government support.
“I worry that there’s a whole lot of little activities but not a real end goal in mind,” said Brian Hanley, who was the director for Indonesia of Search for Common Ground in 2010, when the prison program was in operation.
Ansyaad said some lawmakers had resisted more vigorous anti-terrorism efforts for fear of being seen as meddling in religious affairs.
Recently the government announced plans for a national counterterrorism program that would bring together the police, Muslim organizations, civil society groups and several government bodies, including the Ministries of Education and Religion.
Ansyaad also advocates government standards for what clerics can preach and harsher sentences for terrorism. By not being stricter on hate speech, incitement to violence and paramilitary training, he said, “we’ve become a hotbed for terrorism.”
But talk of restricting religious activities stirs concerns among some of a return to Suharto’s iron-fisted tactics.
“We have to be sure we don’t go down the slippery slope of allowing the government to control areas it has no business controlling, i.e., religious freedom,” said Dewi Fortuna Anwar, part of the political affairs team at the vice president’s office. “There’s a fine line between preventing radicalism and too much state control.”
The New York Times