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Jakarta Blasts and Jemaah Islamiyah

Panjaj Kumar Jha was Associate Fellow at Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. Click here for detail profile.
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  • July 23, 2009

    Indonesian police confirmed on July 19 that the twin blasts at the Ritz Carlton and Marriott Hotels in Jakarta two days earlier, which left nine people dead (including two suicide bombers) and more than 50 injured, was the handiwork of Jemaah Islamiyah. This shows that terrorism and terror networks are still existent in Indonesia, a nascent democratic country with the largest Muslim population in the world. These blasts are meant to create panic and show that the nebulous terror groups like Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) are trying to come out of their oblivion. It has been witnessed in the past that the JI has surprised anti-terror experts whenever it was assumed that it faced a leadership crisis, as happened after the arrest of Hambali, the JI leader, in 2003.

    JI is a large-scale terror network with four operating units (Mantiqui) and surreptitious networks in Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore and Australia. It aspires to establish an Islamic state across Southeast Asia drawing inspiration from the Darul Islam movement which started in the late 1940s. JI was facing leadership crisis after the arrest of its top leadership and more than 200 cadres since 2002 and especially after the 2005 Bali bomb blasts, and has been looking for asserting itself in regional sphere. In April 2008 Abu Dujana (military head) and Zarkasih (head of JI) were awarded a sentence of 15 years imprisonment for harbouring terrorists. Many of its contemporary terror organizations like Abu Sayyaf and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in the Southern Philippines are facing the crisis of cadres due to intense anti-terror operations launched by the Armed Forces of Philippines (AFP). The US with its logistical network and military assistance is helping Philippines in carrying out these operations.

    Noordin Top, one of the most wanted terrorists in Asia, is also listed as one of the suspects. Although he has drifted away from JI owing to differences on civilian targeting in bomb blasts, the fact remains that he had targeted US hotels in Jakarta in the past. Noordin has been a top terror financier as well as an activist provocateur, who has launched his own organisation called Tanzim Qaedat al-Jihad (Organisation for the Base of Jihad) and also Al Qaeda of Malay Archipelago. Apart from Noordin, two more Bali bombings accused, Dulmatin and Umar Patek, are still at large. On a number of occasions claims have been made by both the Philippino and Indonesian police to have killed the two wanted terrorists. The role of Umar Patek and Dulmatin in the July 17, 2009 blasts is suspected because they were thought to have been involved in the Mindanao blasts in the first week of July 2009. Dulmatin carries a cash reward of US$ 10 million, while his aide Umar Patek has a prize money of US $ 1 million on his head.

    The arrest of JI activist in Almanos, Philippines in April 2008 who used to manage and procure funds for the organization confirmed that deep ties still existed between terror organisations in Southeast Asia. In March 2009, a Philippino JI activist Giovanni de Ocampo, a trainer and expert in Improvised Explosive Devices (IED), was arrested with a large cache of explosives and ammunition meant for JI cadres in Indonesia. These arrests proved that JI was reintensifying its jihadist agenda through terror attacks in the archipelago. Australia had also warned Indonesia of an imminent terror attack. Though Indonesia has been praised as a country which has won the war against terror, its counter-radicalisation initiatives have suffered from the lack of a firmer thrust. This has provided a fertile ground for radicals to nurture and provide safe haven for JI cadres. Also the lack of control on second tier radical organisations like Islamic Defenders Front, Lashkar Jihad, Mujahidin KOMPAK as well as the proliferation of radical literature and teachings have given manoeuvrability for the terrorists. Even after the prosecution and death penalty of the Imam Samudra, Amrozi Nurhasyim and Mukhlas Ghufron, three Bali bombings accused in the November 2008, the threat of terrorism in Indonesia has been seen from two perspectives. One, effective counter–terrorism measures have led to the arrest and prosecution of JI terrorists. Two, the participation of a number of people in their funeral ceremony showed prevalent sympathy for the terrorists. Support for the government’s anti-terror actions has come from Islamic organisations like Muhamadiyyah and Nahad ul Ulema as well as Ulema Council, while large scale media coverage gave them the status of martyrs. But the flip side of the anti-terror struggle was placating of Islamic hardliners through the decree on the Ahmediyyah sect, which was found to be propelled by radical Muslim groups in the country. The Anti-pornography Bill was also opposed by Christian and Hindu groups in Indonesia stating that it infringes on their right to religious freedom and is tantamount to pushing Indonesia under Shariah law. Thus a fine balancing is required to sustain the anti-terror momentum even as religious constituencies are sought to be placated.

    The targeting of the two US hotels also reveals an anti-US angle. President Barack Obama is keen to visit Indonesia in the near future to earn laurels for his country’s anti-terror initiatives in Indonesia as well as advance the soft image of the United States under his presidency. Of late, Obama’s likely visit to Indonesia has been highlighted by the media in Southeast Asian countries. As Obama has lived for quite some time in Indonesia and with the relative success in Indonesia against terrorism, his visit was likely to open new areas of bilateral military and economic cooperation. These blasts were warning shots for the United States that all is not over as far as the JI is concerned. It has been discussed in a number of articles and commentaries that the core structure of the JI, which comprises of about 900 cadres, still exists in Indonesia. Also, these cadres draw support from communally sensitive areas like Poso, Sulawesi, Maluku, Palembang and Lampung, which are home to a number of radical Islamic groups. The contiguous maritime borders between Southern Philippines and Sulawesi have made movement quite easy for JI terrorists and in the case of a crackdown they have easily found refuge in the Southern Philippines or in the idyllic islands of Indonesia. JI needs to be monitored and this time the secondary groups assisting it and those harbouring its cadres should also be specifically targeted.