Indonesian Militants Recruit Fighters in Video
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published: March 16, 2010
Filed at 2:57 p.m. ET
BANDA ACEH, Indonesia (AP) -- From the safety of a forest camp, a commander of
a new Indonesian militant group looks into a camera and ridicules the notorious
extremist group Jemaah Islamiyah: They are not violent enough, come and join
us, he shouts, an automatic rifle in one hand.
The emergence of the previously unknown group calling itself al-Qaida in Aceh
shows how Southeast Asian militants are adapting even amid a Western-funded
crackdown that began following the 2002 Bali nightclub bombings and has taken
out scores of top leaders.
The group's criticism of Jemaah Islamiyah is further evidence of the split in
Indonesian extremist networks between militants supporting al-Qaida-style
attacks inside the country and those who believe such attacks hurt the
longer-term aim of establishing a Muslim state in Southeast Asia.
The speech is contained on a 75-minute training, recruitment and propaganda
video obtained by The Associated Press from a person not affiliated with the
militant group. It contains scenes of about 15 militants exercising on monkey
bars, shooting automatic weapons and preaching in a makeshift camp in the
western province of Aceh that was raided last month by anti-terrorist police.
It is interspersed with old clips of Osama bin Laden urging violent jihad, or
holy war, and scenes of the men eating fish and rice together from a communal
pot, chanting as they march through the camp and bathing in a river.
Part or all of the video briefly appeared on a militant-linked blog on the
Internet, released by the militants soon after the camp was raided, the first
documented case of a terrorist training camp in Indonesia for five years. Two
short clips are currently available on YouTube.
''To all those in JI, I tell you. You don't fight jihad with the pen or in a
prayer cap and sarong,'' said the commander in a hoarse voice as he sat
cross-legged under a canvas sheet. ''No, you fight jihad with weapons. Before
your hair goes gray with age, join us!''
The commander's face, along with those of other people in the video, are
blurred by an editor. At one point, a militant tells the cameraman to avoid
showing the men for the same reason.
Despite the name, it is far from clear whether the new group has direct links
to al-Qaida or took the name as a mark of allegiance. In the past, bin Laden's
network has funded attacks in Indonesia, and in the 1990s hosted scores of
militants at camps in Afghanistan. Most analysts have said such contacts have
The raid on the camp was followed by a series of arrests and shootings by
police across Indonesia. The biggest catch has been Dulmatin, Southeast Asia's
most-wanted terrorist and a master bomb-maker, who was killed last week in an
Internet cafe near Jakarta.
The United States had posted a $10 million reward for his death or capture,
reflecting the importance Washington places on battling terrorism in Southeast
Asia as part of its larger goal of defeating al-Qaida worldwide.
The flurry of activity comes ahead of President Barack Obama's first trip to
Indonesia since taking office. He is due to arrive next week, and the Muslim
country's efforts to battle militants who were behind a string of attacks,
including twin hotel bombings last year in Jakarta, are sure to be on the
Last week, an AP reporter visited the site of the camp seen in the video in
Aceh, although there was little remaining, aside from a canvas tent and a
plastic bag hanging from a tree. The site lies in deep forest and high in the
hills, about a two-hour walk from the nearest village.
It is unknown why the terrorists chose Aceh, which was hard hit by the 2004
earthquake and tsunami, for a base. Until a peace deal in 2005, it was home to
a separatist army which, while made up of Muslims, was wholly secular in
The video contains news media footage of Indonesian police attacking the
separatists in that conflict, as well as news footage of Muslim-Christian
fighting in eastern Indonesia between 1998 and 2005 that radicalized a
generation of Indonesian Muslims.
That juxtaposition suggests the group may be trying to recruit former
separatists, who would be especially valuable because of their battle skills
and knowledge of the terrain. At one point in the video, a militant from Aceh
sings a song in the local language praising jihadists.
Ansyaad Mbai, the top anti-terrorism official at the Coordinating Ministry for
Security and Political Affairs, said the group was attracted to Aceh because of
its history of conflict, availability of weapons and its location across the
Malacca Strait from southern Thailand, another militant hotspot.
Militants in recent months have come to Aceh and have used a legal Islamist
group called the Islamic Defenders Front as a cover for their activities, said
Yusuf al Qardhawi, the head of the hard-line organization. The front, which is
tolerated by security forces because it has no known terrorist connections,
promotes Islamic law in Indonesia and is best-known for vandalizing nightclubs
In January 2009, Qardhawi said his group appealed in the media for volunteers
in Aceh to go to Gaza to fight Israeli forces. The group has done this in other
regions of Indonesia, and it was generally regarded as a publicity stunt, with
no militants actually going to the Middle East.
Qardhawi said more than 150 young people from Aceh responded to the call,
adding that he was introduced to a prospective trainer named Sofyan Atsauri,
who police now say is an Afghan-trained militant who lived among Islamic
militants in the southern Philippines.
Qardhawi said he did not know Atsauri's background or intentions, and when the
Gaza trip failed to happen, he said Atsauri took some of those recruits, along
with others from Indonesia's main island of Java, for training in the forest
''They (Al-Qaida in Aceh) were looking for militant seeds in Aceh,'' Qardhawi
told the AP. ''It was an opportunity for them to get in to the province.''
Qardhawi's account was largely confirmed by an Indonesian anti-terrorism
officer who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not permitted to talk
to the media.
The officer said other militants believed to have been at the camp included a
suspect in the 2004 bombing at the Australian Embassy in Jakarta; two other
veterans of the campaign in the southern Philippines; and others recruited by
known terrorists, including one who was released from prison.
The split in militant ranks in Indonesia has been apparent since the 2002 Bali
bombings, which were carried out by members of Jemaah Islamiyah and killed 202
people, mostly Westerners. It is unclear whether the leadership of the group,
which was formed by veterans of the Afghan war, ordered or were even aware of
The commander in the militant video even singles out a Jemaah Islamiyah leader
by name, Abu Rusdan. He says Rusdan should not be trusted because all he does
is sit in ''an office.''
Rusdan, an Afghan veteran sentenced to 3 1/2 years in jail in 2003 for
sheltering a terrorist, is known to be a more moderate member of Jemaah
While the resilience of jihadist networks in Indonesia has surprised some,
given the apparent success of the country's security forces in capturing or
killing militant leaders, analysts have pointed out such movements have deep
roots in the country. Jemaah Islamiyah itself is an offshoot of the Darul Islam
network, which fought the Indonesian army in the 1960s during its campaign to
establish an Islamic state.
Karmini reported from Banda Aceh; Brummitt from Jakarta.
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