How to uproot terrorism from the start
Muh Taufiqurrohman , Jakarta | Sat, 04/03/2010 9:27 AM | Opinion
It was not surprising for me to read that Yudi Zulfahri, recruiter and
facilitator for Jamaah Islamiyah in Aceh, and his two college friends, Gema
Awal Ramadhan and Agam Fitriadi, were among the terrorists arrested in Aceh. I
first met Yudi at the As Shunnah mosque in Bandung at the beginning of 2007
while undertaking field research.
Yudi was attending Jamaah As Shunnah (JA)'s weekly radical group meeting and
the group's leader, Ustadz Lesmana who is also an acquaintance of the al-Qaeda
operative Umar Al Faruq, introduced him to me. Yudi was at the time new to
radicalism and lacked an in-depth knowledge of Islam. So did his two friends,
whom he brought to our next meeting.
Yudi told JA that his reason for joining the group was because he wanted to do
something for oppressed Muslims and felt rejected by society due to his
fundamental Islamic views. He also mentioned that he needed to have a community
that shared his passion for jihad and hatred of non-Muslims.
During further weekly meetings at this radical mosque, Yudi showed his
enthusiasm of violent jihad to his new radical friends.
He actively voiced his concern over the innocent victims of the Iraq and
Afghanistan wars and expressed his desire to get involved, consulting JA
members on how to get into Iraq or Afghanistan.
Yudi also invited some members of the group to go to South Thailand and
proposed setting up a military training camp in Aceh.
Meanwhile, besides attending weekly JA meetings, Yudi also paid frequent visits
to the jailed MMI military trainer Yuli Harsono and the jailed Jamaah Tauhid
wal Jihad leader, Aman Abdurrahman.
In addition, Yudi also suggested that the group make radical changes by
appointing a new and younger amirul jihad (jihad leader) and military commander
to prepare the group for future terrorist attacks in Bandung and Jakarta.
Yudi's fast moves raised the suspicions of Ustadz Lesmana. Not only did he lack
Islamic knowledge, but his presence had split the group into two factions: One
wanted to lay low and the other wanted to be more active in pursuing violent
jihad through active military training, bomb making training, conducting
surveillance and building networks with other radical groups in Indonesia and
Southeast Asia. Ustadz Lesmana suspected that Yudi might be a government agent
because of his job as a civil servant.
For security reasons, Ustadz Lesmana encouraged other JA members to isolate
Yudi and those members who shared his impatience to pursue terrorism.
Feeling rejected, Yudi left the group in search of another more radical group.
From another JA member I learnt that he wanted to prove to people that he was a
real jihadist and JA's rejection only confirmed his determination for jihad. As
reported by media, Yudi moved to Jakarta, and joined a radical group associated
with Aman Abdurrahman's Jamaah Tauhid wal Jihad. He also met Sofyan Tsauri who
introduced him to Dulmatin.
The process of Yudi's involvement with radical and terrorist groups is
interesting to observe. His perceived marginalization by society due to
different religious ideas drove him to find a radical group to where he could
When he joined JA, he crossed what John Horgan, expert in the psychology of
terrorism, calls the "alienation threshold", a point at which he retreated into
a small group of like-minded and angry people.
Here he was involved in an intense period of in-group socialization through
which he was indoctrinated by radical teachers such as Halawi and Aman
Abdurrahman using books written by Egyptian Syekh Abdul Qadir Bin Abdul Aziz,
such as Al Wala' wal Baro (Love and Hate for God's sake), Al-Umdah fi
I'dadal-Uddah (The Fundamentals of Preparedness for Holy War), Al-Jami' fi
Talab al-'Ilm al-Sharif (The Compilation on Seeking Honorable Knowledge) and
Ma'alim Asasiyah fil Jihad (Manual for Jihadi Jurisprudence).
Yudi's next stage of becoming a terrorist was accelerated by the alienation he
experienced from JA which pushed him across Horgan's "violence threshold", a
point at which he was ready to commit violence. He was arrested in the final
stage of becoming a terrorist, namely in preparation for an attack.
Yudi's journey to terrorism might have been stopped if people around him had
have intervened before he crossed the alienation threshold. Parents, friends
and religious teachers could have engaged him in dialogue regarding his
religious views and social or political grievances.
Even after he joined JA, he might have stayed away from terrorism if JA leaders
and members had not isolated him but instead instilled in him a milder view.
Besides Yudi, there were two other JA members who were similarly isolated, one
of whom did not pursue terrorism despite strong intentions to kill Americans.
The reason, he told me, was that his family, friends and more importantly
religious teachers talked to him and kept persuading him to avoid violent
jihad. People like Yudi are not so different from us. We all need acceptance,
we all need a community to which we feel we can belong and contribute
positively, and we all need respect.
It is all very well for us to judge and despise "terrorists", but it might be
more productive if we are able to put aside these initial responses and to try
to understand the individual journey's such people make and why they might make
them. Only with such an understanding then can we start to help them address
the grievances they face and find the support they need without resorting to
The writer holds a masters in International Relations from UNPAR and has
undertaken research on terrorism.
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