You are here

Counterterrorism and Deradicalisation: The Indonesian Way

Ms Lakshmi Priya Vijayan is a Research Intern at the Manohar Parrikar Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi.
  • Share
  • Tweet
  • Email
  • Whatsapp
  • Linkedin
  • Print
  • July 13, 2023

    The 2002 Bali bombings, perpetrated by Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), a terrorist organisation that has close links with Al-Qaeda, marked a shift in the Indonesian approach towards terrorism, leading to the formulation of various counterterrorism policies including anti-terrorism laws, the creation of a special unit called Densus 88, a powerful National Intelligence Agency and deradicalisation programmes.

    The role of the Australian Federal Police was crucial in helping Indonesia develop its counterterrorism policies and structures post the Bali bombings. The Australian Police was involved in the security operations after the Bali bombings as well as in training Special Detachment 88, which has since become the primary agency of Indonesian counterterrorism efforts.

    A counterterrorism policy action, the Government Regulation in Lieu of Law (Perpu) No. 01/2002 was passed in 2002 as an interim law by the then President Megawati Sukarnoputri and formalised in 2003 as Law No.15/2003. It defined the act and intention of terrorism and prescribed punishments on funding, weapons, and for supporting acts of terrorism.1 This law was subsequently amended in 2013 and 2018.

    The 2018 amendment widened the scope of counterterrorism activities but it raised concerns as regards possibility of limiting public dissent and political freedom. The amendment followed the 2016 Surabaya attack and rising demand for strong anti-terrorism laws. To tackle terror financing, Law No. 09/2013 was passed.2 Along with anti-terrorism laws, national agencies were formed to counter terrorism, including a special wing of the Indonesian National Police called Detachment 88 (Densus 88) founded in 2003, and National Counterterrorism Agency in 2010.

    Indonesia’s National Police (POLRI), formed in 1946, is the primary agency that deals with internal security. Even though the POLRI has multiple anti-terrorism units, the Densus 88 remains the specialised squad for counterterrorism actions focused on suicide bombings. The force was trained jointly by the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom, which also provided weapons and financial assistance to establish the unit. Other State agencies include Badan Intellijen Negara Republik Indonesia (BIN) (the State intelligence agency) and the Badan Nasional Penanggulangan Terorisme (BNPT) (National Counterterrorism Agency), previously known as Desk Koordinasi Pemberantasan Terorisme (DKPT).

    Deradicalisation Policy

    While the hard security approach and legal policy measures have been efficient and successful, as part of a long-term approach, given the country’s predominantly Muslim population and history of insurgent movements, Indonesia has instituted a deradicalisation policy. The deradicalisation programmes conducted by Indonesia’s National Counterterrorism Agency were introduced in the year 2008 as part of the implementation of a soft approach to deal with terrorism known as the ‘Deradicalisation Blueprint’.

    According to former BNPT director, Petrus Golose, deradicalisation is defined as

    “any attempt to neutralise the radical ideas through interdisciplinary approaches such as law, psychology, religion and social culture for those who are influenced by radicalism and have been influenced by the radicalism and have been involved in terrorism.”3

    The initial phase of the deradicalisation programme primarily focused on JI members who were involved in the attacks and the process was carried out by former terrorists and militants, with the capability to influence the minds of these terrorists.4 The main target actors of the deradicalisation programme are the former members of a terror group, and their close connections. These actors are divided into core groups, militants, supporters and sympathisers, depending on their involvement and correlations in these activities.

    The deradicalisation programmes were run for ex-convicts and their families who are deemed to have the highest possibility to resort to violent extremism if not surveilled and deradicalised as well as for prisoners to reduce the chances of recidivism once they are out of the prison. Deradicalisation amongst prisoners is carried out in multiple stages: phase identification, rehabilitation, re-education and re-socialisation.5 Along with two approaches to deradicalisation, there are different stages pertaining to the pre-prison stage, prison stage and after-prison stage. These approaches are mainly implemented by prison services.6 The communication coordinators in the policy are religious figures, academicians, civil society organisations, among others.

    The characteristic features of Indonesia’s deradicalisation programme are that they use a former terrorism convict to interact with convicts in jail in order to bring relatability and credibility. It looks at various socioeconomic indicators and provides assistance that becomes crucial when the convict is out of the prison.7 This also builds trust among families, thereby influencing the thinking and behaviour of the State.

    Strengths and Weaknesses of the Policy

    The ultimate aim of the State is to prevent further terrorist attacks perpetrated by those who are  already convicted. For this, the foundational thing is to establish trust between State and the ex-convicts or their close connections. Hence, economic incentives are provided by the State to these people. About 800 people attended the deradicalisation programme,8 signifying the reach of the programme. The Entrepreneurship Empowerment Programme implemented as part of the policy was aimed at rehabilitation. Entrepreneurship empowerment programme ensures that the ones who are out of prison are able to find new livelihoods and are self-sufficient enough to not resort to recidivism for financial needs.

    While there are areas of strength in Indonesia’s deradicalisation policy, the current policy fails to cater to the changing nature and modes of radicalisation processes and terrorist recruitments. The main terrorist group during the formulation and implementation of the deradicalisation programme of the State was JI. With the growing presence of ISIS and ISIS-affiliated terror groups in the State, the deradicalisation programme is faltering at countering terrorism. From 2016 to 2021, there have been series of attacks by Islamic State and affiliated group Jamaah Ansharut Daulah. These attacks have included the 2016 Central Jakarta attacks, 2018 Surabaya bombings and the South Jakarta bombings that took place on 31 March 2021.

    ISIS has its radicalisation as well as recruitment methods different from JI and its splinter groups because of its use of technology, especially social media to radicalise and recruit. There have been reports of increased usage of YouTube, Facebook and Twitter as methods of propaganda and radicalisation in Indonesia.9 The processes and methods followed by the State in its deradicalisation programme seem inadequate to address the challenge of radicalisation through social media and other online platforms.

    Assessing the Success of the Indonesian CT Model

    Measuring the success rate of a counterterrorism model is difficult considering the lack of empirical information, especially with de-radicalisation programmes that look at human attitudes and behavioural patterns. However, trends in the recidivism rates, as well as the number of incidents of violence in the State, can give an overview of the success rate of the counterterrorism model of Indonesia which has two prongs of hard security approach as well as the soft approach relating to de-radicalisation. Counterterrorism agencies like Densus 88 have been successful in capturing terrorists and foiling various suicide bombings. Indonesia has arrested over 896 people associated with acts of terrorism out of which 126 have received the death penalty and 694 were given the life sentence.10

    The recidivism rates, indicating the numbers of ex-convicts returning back to terrorism, in Indonesia is reported to be on the higher side at 11.39 per cent, during the period between 2002 and 2020.11 The recidivism rate in Spain, for instance, between 2004 and 2017 was at 4 per cent while that of Austria during 2006–20 was at 4 per cent.12 As seen in Table 1 below, Indonesia’s overall scores have shown fluctuations, as captured by the Global Terrorism Index.

    Malaysia’s Counterterrorism Model: A Comparison

    Malaysia has been a success story in developing and effectively implementing its counterterrorism model, especially with the deradicalisation programme. Malaysia is the immediate neighbour of Indonesia and has the majority of the population following Islam as in Indonesia. The attacks in Malaysia are mainly carried out by terror groups that are prominent in Indonesia, such as JI and its splinter groups. The authority that overlooks these programmes in both countries is their National Police.

    The deradicalisation programme introduced by Malaysia can be considered a key feature in the success of its counterterrorism model. While Indonesia has a tangible legal framework, counterterrorism agencies and intelligence services, the deradicalisation programme of Malaysia can be observed as more effective than the Indonesian model because of the multiplicity of actors in the implementation of the programme and greater emphasis on social reintegration of ex-convicts. For Malaysia’s ‘Religious Rehabilitation Programme’, the main communicators are religious leaders and counsellors.

    In the case of Indonesia, even though religious leaders are effective agents in fighting radicalisation, there is no special religious rehabilitation process as such. In the implementation of Indonesia’s deradicalisation programme, the main actor is the National Counterterrorism Agency. Malaysian agencies coordinate with other State institutions in the deradicalisation as well as in the rehabilitation process. These agencies include the Social Welfare Department, State Alms Centre, Prison Department and Royal Malaysian Police.13

    Malaysia has been successful in adapting to the new challenges in the counterterrorism initiative, including those relating to online radicalisation and recruitment. A Counter-Messaging Centre has been established to tackle the issue of online propaganda by terror groups.14     

    The recidivism rate in Malaysia stood at 5.4 per cent during 2001–2011.15 The Global Terrorism Index report of 2023 shows that there is a decline in terrorism activities in Malaysia compared to Indonesia, which hasn’t shown a considerable decrease in the overall scores. Given below is the comparison of the overall scores obtained by Indonesia and Malaysia in the Global Terrorism Index Report from 2018 to 2023.

    Table 1: Indonesia and Malaysia: Global Terrorism Index

































    Note: The Global Terrorism Index Scores denote measurable impact of terrorism. The scale is from 0 to 10, where 0 represents no impact from terrorism and 10 is the highest measurable impact of terrorism. As for rank, higher the rank, lower is the impact of terrorism.

    Source: Global Terrorism Index, Various Years.


    The turning point in Indonesia’s attitude towards terrorism and formulating counterterrorism strategies was the Bali Bombings of 2002. Over the years, Indonesia has strengthened its counterterrorism strategies through hard security and soft approaches (deradicalisation programmes). The Indonesian counterterrorism model, however, has some fault lines, mostly due to relatively higher recidivism rates. Malaysia’s stronger deradicalisation policy can perhaps be emulated by Indonesia to further reduce recidivism rates.

    Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Manohar Parrikar IDSA or of the Government of India.