Center for Strategic Communication

by Chris Lundry

Indonesian police have continued to make arrests of those with suspected ties to terrorism, including 14 people in the last week. Remarkably, many of those arrested have direct ties to firebrand cleric Abu Bakar Basyir and the organization he founded in 2008, Jemaah Anshoru Tauhid (JAT, the Supporters of Monotheism). According to the Jakarta Post, Basyir, who has been imprisoned twice in Indonesia, issued a statement stating that he is ready to be  questioned by the police.  He stressed that the JAT had no ties to terrorism, but I suspect that is a connection best left investigated by police.

Of course the JAT issued a statement denying any ties to terrorism (on the jihad-friendly Ar-Rahmah website, whose owner remains on trial for his purported connections to terrorism funding in connection to the Ritz Carlton and J. W. Marriott bombings in Jakarta last summer). This statement cited Basyir as claiming that the arrests amount to kidnapping, that the JAT was not causing problems in the neighborhood, and that god will punish those responsible.

Mainstream media source reported that Basyir is known to have visited those arrested and to have led them in prayer. Its article also stated that those arrested are suspected of having ties to Dulmatin, the Jemaah Islamiyah leader and Bali Bomb plotter was was killed by Indonesia’s anti-terror police squad Densus 88 in March. Of course Basyir commented on Dulmatin’s death, but it was more of the intricate dance of words that Basyir has become adept at in order to remain out of prison: he was not a terrorist, he was a martyr, he defended Muslims overseas, etc.

Those arrested are suspected of having ties to the failed plot to train jihadists in Aceh (see prior post here). Although it is easy to become overly optimistic when reports such as these surface, they do show that the Indonesian authorities are not resting on their laurels but rather continue to try to root out extremists. One can also safely assume that their intelligence gathering has been successful, whether through assistance by civilians (as in the Aceh case), through interrogations, or through rehabilitated former extremists.

During the Suharto era, extremists such as Basyir and fellow Jemaah Islamiyah co-founder Abdullah Sungkar were forced to leave Indonesia for Malaysia when they faced prosecution. Following the messy and chaotic beginning of Indonesia’s transition to democracy in the late 1990s, Basyir was able to return and Jemaah Islamiyah increased its activities. Although the irony of the JAT making appeals to democratic principles such as due process — when they promote a system of shariah that would eliminate personal choices for many — should not be lost on anyone, it appears as though Indonesia may be rebuking the conventional wisdom that it’s harder to quash terrorism in a democratic environment. Perhaps with the latest wave of arrests and killings of terrorists in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore will become appealing once again as places from which to lead their operations.