TSG IntelBrief: Evolving Terrorism Threats From Indonesia’s Generation 2.0
• Since 2011, when Syrian rebel group Ahrar al-Sham first published photos of an Indonesian “martyr,” an estimated 50 Indonesians have traveled via Turkey to Syria and connected with other jihadists there. Some of them may bring new skills and networks back to Indonesia
• The resonance among Indonesian Muslims of the plight of ethnic Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar is serving as a rallying cry for Indonesian jihadists to expand their current selection from Indonesian government targets to more regional targets
• Although Indonesia’s elite counter-terrorism unit, Densus 88, dismantled Jemaah Islamiyah (JI)’s operational elements, the Mujahidin of Eastern Indonesia rose from the scraps of JI and are becoming an increasingly serious threat to Indonesian security forces—particularly Densus 88—and government officials, as well as Shi’a and Ahmadiya Muslims and Christians.
The first generation of Indonesian jihadists fought in the waning years of the Soviet War in Afghanistan and in the Afghan civil war of the 1990s on the side of the rising Taliban movement. The founders of JI, Abdullah Sungkar and Abu Bakar Bashir, both Indonesians of Yemeni descent, raised funding in the late the 1980s to train Indonesian, Malaysian and Singaporean recruits in Afghanistan.
Bomb-making masterminds of JI who were trained in Afghanistan during the late 1980s and early 1990s included the Malaysian Azahari Husin (aka Demolition Man), who was killed by Densus 88 in a hideout in Indonesia in 2005; Dulmatin, who was killed by Densus 88 in Jakarta in 2010; Umar Patek, who was captured in Abbottabad, Pakistan in 2011 (possibly while trying to meet Usama bin Laden, or obtain funds from al-Qaeda in Afghanistan); and the Malaysian Zulkifli bin Hir (aka Marwan), who was killed by an air strike in Mindanao, Philippines in 2012, at an Abu Sayyaf camp.
These terrorists were involved in many attacks carried out during JI’s most active period from 1999-2002, including a bombing at the Istiqlal Mosque in Jakarta, an assassination attempt on the Philippine ambassador in Jakarta, church bombings in Jakarta, Sumatra, Lombok, Java and Batam, and JI’s most lethal bombings at Kuta Beach in Bali, which killed 88 Australians, eight Americans, and more than 100 others in 2002. A JI splinter group led by Malaysian Noordin M Top also carried out bombings at the JW Marriot Hotel in 2003, Australian Embassy in 2004, a second bombing at Bali in 2005, and bombings of the JW Marriot and Ritz-Carlton hotels in Jakarta in 2009.
Top’s bomb-maker was Azahari Husin and his killing by Densus 88 led to gradual reduction of their attacks from 2005 to 2009. Top and his new lieutenants were killed by Densus 88 in 2009 following the hotel bombings. The nail in the coffin for the first generation of JI militants came in May 2011, when Abu Bakar Bashir received a 15-year prison sentence for sponsoring a terrorist camp in Aceh that Densus 88 raided in 2010. Since 2010, no JI attacks of the magnitude of the previous ten year period have taken place. Densus 88 has continued to arrest remaining members in JI’s existing networks, including Upik Lawanga, who assembled the bombs for the 2009 hotel attacks, while Upik was trying to cross the border between Malaysian and Indonesian Borneo in 2012, possibly en route to Mindanao, Philippines.
Despite carrying out several high-profile attacks on international targets in Indonesia from 1999 to 2009, JI’s weaknesses were twofold. First, JI’s ideology didn’t attract grassroots Indonesian followers and, thus, never achieved mass movement form. Second, JI only had a small group of highly skilled bomb-makers whose knowledge had not been passed to others, further disrupting the likelihood of similar large-scale attacks.
Yet, a second generation of Indonesian jihadists is now emerging from the remnants of JI and organizing into a new group, which seeks to remedy JI’s main weaknesses. This group is led by Santoso (aka Abu Warda or Abu Yahya) and calls itself Mujahidin Indonesia Timor. Santoso’s members are based in Poso on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi and comprised of dozens of fighters who trained at the Abu Bakar Bashir-sponsored camp in Aceh that was dismantled in 2010.
Unlike JI, which mostly appealed to al-Qaeda’s audience and focused on the US and its allies operationally and ideologically, Santoso has declared Mujahidin Indonesia Timor’s main enemies are Densus 88 and Indonesia’s secular and democratic government.
Santoso appeared in two videos in 2013. In the first video released in July 2013, titled “Treaties to Muslims in Poso,” Santoso appeared with two men dressed in army fatigues and holding assault rifles, and opened with “greetings to all of you who are in town to keep fighting Densus 88.” In the second video, released in October 2013, Santoso was holding an AK-46 assault rifle and proclaimed Densus 88 is a “foreign army” that seeks to wipe out Sunni Muslims in Indonesia. These two videos were consistent with Santoso’s first ever outside communication in July 2012, when he posted a letter on the Internet daring Densus 88 to catch him and referred to himself as Abu Zarqawi al-Indonesia after the late al-Qaeda in Iraq leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. In 2012 and 2013, Santoso’s fighters carried out several shootings and beheadings of police officers in the Poso area.
In January 2014, it appeared some of Santoso’s fighters may have been influenced by regional events. Six militants who were reportedly connected to Santoso were killed in a shootout in Jakarta while plotting to blow up Buddhist temples and the Myanmar embassy in response to Myanmar’s majority Buddhist government’s treatment of Muslim Rohingyas.
Indonesian officials are also concerned that up to 50 Indonesians have traveled to Syria to fight and that some Indonesian organizations are providing “humanitarian aid” to the rebels. Moreover, from his prison cell, Abu Bakar Bashir called Syria a “university for jihad education” and encouraged Indonesians to fight there. This could portend that Indonesians in Syria are gaining operational experience—and extremist exposure—that Santoso’s fighter may not currently have and, like the Indonesians who fought in Afghanistan in the 1980s and 1990s, these Indonesians in Syria may return home and increase the capacity and broaden the targets selections of Santoso’s fighters in Mujahidin Indonesia Timor.
• Santoso’s increasingly public face through Internet videos and statements may earn him stature and expand his following in Indonesia
• Mujahidin Indonesia Timor will likely maintain its main base in the mountainous areas of Poso, Sulawesi, but will attempt to reach out to other Islamists on Indonesia’s most populated island of Java and Indonesia’s more remote islands
• Whether Mujahidin Indonesia Timor becomes a more serious threat to international targets in Indonesia may depend on if Indonesians trained abroad, such as in Syria, are able to influence the group’s operational capacity and ideological trajectory.
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