ISIS Presence in Indonesia Raises Concern

Members of the Indonesian Mujahidin Council secretariat are seen practicing for war at the MMI in Yogyakarta. They are preparing to be dispatched to Lebanon and Palestine to serve as volunteers for jihadist causes in the Middle East. (Antara Photo)

Members of the Indonesian Mujahidin Council secretariat are seen practicing for war at the MMI in Yogyakarta. They are preparing to be dispatched to Lebanon and Palestine to serve as volunteers for jihadist causes in the Middle East. (Antara Photo)

Extremists open branches across the country in support of the terror group rampaging through the Middle East

Jakarta. The establishment of representatives of the Iraqi militancy group, the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, in Indonesia has raised concern, with analysts saying that the sympathetic support could turn into extremism — or worse, acts of terror.

Jihadist group ISIS has continuously advanced toward Baghdad in an effort to re-establish an ancient caliphate based on Islamic law, or Shariah, in Iraq and the Eastern Mediterranean. The movement has claimed more than a thousand lives in Iraq and Syria.

More than 30,000 Indonesians have joined the jihadist movement fighting across the Middle East, and some of them have returned home to establish ISIS branches in Jakarta and West Nusa Tenggara.

Ansyaad Mbai, chairman of the National Anti-Terror Agency (BNPT) said support by Indonesian Islamist groups for ISIS was a violation of the law.

“Those who had declared their support by joining the jihadist movement in Syria or Iraq and then establishing Islamic State branches in this country blatantly disobey the law,” Ansyaad told the Jakarta Globe on Thursday. “There are even groups that had pledged bai’at [oaths of allegiance] to the ISIS leader [Abu Bakar al-Baghdadi]. This could also be categorized as a violation of the law.”

Imprisoned terrorist convict Abu Bakar Ba’asyir, the spiritual leader of Indonesia’s extremist network, has also reportedly supported the establishment of local branches of the jihadist movement.

Before being jailed, Ba’asyir was the leader of the Jemaah Islamiyah, a group behind the Bali bombings in 2002, which he left and went on to found Jamaah Anshorut Tauhid (JAT). Many of its members were involved and have been convicted of terrorism activities across Indonesia.

Having a similar goal with ISIS in Iraq, Ba’asyir and other extremists in Indonesia have long dreamed of creating an Islamic state, which once ruled the Middle East and its surrounding areas for over a thousand years.

‘Illegal’

“Although some had pledged their oath, Abu Bakar Ba’asyir himself had not pledged his bai’at but I could confirm that he strongly supports the movement,” Ansyaad said. “And supporting this ISIS movement goes against the citizenship law.”

Ansyaad cited the 2006 Citizen Law, which stipulates that “anyone who pledges an oath to any foreign country or any group based in another country would lose their Indonesian citizenship.”

He went on to say that the support also contradicts Article 139 of the Criminal Law, which declares that “getting involved with people or rebellious groups overseas that have an intention to overthrow the government is a crime” and can be legally punishable by imprisonment.

But senior lecturer Bantarto Bandoro of the Indonesian Defense University said the establishment of local branches does not necessarily mean that support will turn as violent as it has in Iraq and Syria. He added that support does not only come from the end of a gun.

“Regarding the poor situation now in Iraq, it could be one symbol of empathy of Islamic groups in Indonesia. As what they have declared, it’s a solidarity movement. It wouldn’t be something dangerous as long as they don’t commit anarchy or get involved in extremist activities,” Bantarto said.

“Yet, it would be a different story if the branches are used for defending political interests of the group or the interest of the one they’re supporting for. The BNPT should be on full alert with the activities of the ISIS branches. They have to anticipate the worse possible scenario from the establishment of an ISIS branch,” he continued.

Anticipation needed

Even though the BNPT has already had a legal basis to take action against the activities to support the Iraqi militancy, Ansyaad said it would not be enough to bring them to court or to ban the branches.

“From now on we are going to be keeping a close watch and monitor the activities of the members of the branches. Thorough coordination with several other security institutions is needed because ISIS has been declared a terrorist group throughout the world,” he said. “Many of these supporters left Indonesia to support the group and many of them have been detained [in Iraq]. Some of them are still in Iraq, and some are here now. We will take this matter seriously.”

Bantarto echoed the sentiment, saying that the government and police needed to cooperate and maintain a high level of security.

“Retrospectively, we had been attacked before by several disruptive terrorist groups. That is why we need to keep a close eye on this matter. We don’t want these branches to develop into a bigger network,” he said.

“ISIS is a radical movement in Iraq. While in Indonesia, we don’t clearly know the goals of the branches created by their supporters. But if they succeed to attract more and more support, we have to be more careful. We do not want this support to grow as a movement which could surprisingly threatens and attacks our official authority,” he said. “The national safeguard needs to study these branches and their followers. Will it disrupt the continuity of this country and spread extremist dogma?”

Bantarto said even though the branches of ISIS in this country have not yet indicated treacherous motives against the Indonesian government, preventive steps are needed in order to combat disruptive activities against the nation.

“The supporters of the ISIS movement should be closely monitored regularly to prevent them from seeking public support. The police and security-related institutions should observe the development of this branches,” he said.

“One of the branches was established in Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta while another one was established in West Nusa Tenggara, which seems to have been strategic moves,” he said.

“Our government also needs to find out about the relations between these branches and existing extremist groups in Indonesia such as JI, JAT and others … The monitoring should be done actively and continuously,” he said. “Early prevention is the most important thing we can do right now.”

Jakarta Police spokesman Col. Rikwanto has also emphasized the importance of monitoring the groups, saying that it would be key to having a better understanding of the current situation.

“There will have to be an in-depth and comprehensive study before we can draw any conclusion about ISIS branches in the country,” he said. “We don’t know the intention behind their establishment. So what we need to do right now is to find out whether they have a common ideology and purpose.”

The Globe attempted to contact National Police spokesman Boy Rafli, but he could not be reached for comment. JG

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