OVERVIEW

Jama'ah Ansharut Tauhid (JAT), led by Indonesia's best-known radical cleric Abu 
Bakar Ba'asyir, has been an enigma since its founding in 2008. An ostensibly 
above-ground organisation, it has embraced individuals with known ties to 
fugitive extremists. It has welcomed many members of the militant Jema'ah 
Islamiyah (JI) but clashed with the JI leadership over strategy and tactics.  
It preaches jihad against Islam's enemies but insists it stays within the law – 
though it rejects man-made laws as illegitimate.  It is a mass membership 
organisation but wholly dependent on Ba'asyir, without whom it would quickly 
disintegrate. It has become an important element in the network of Indonesian 
jihadi groups but has been the target of harsh criticism from some erstwhile 
allies. Understanding JAT's nature, its many faces and the ideological rifts it 
has generated helps illuminate the weakness and divisions within the Indonesian 
jihadi movement today. It also highlights the ongoing but probably diminishing 
influence of Ba'asyir.

The dark side of JAT's activities came into the spotlight on 6 May 2010, when 
Indonesian police raided its Jakarta headquarters and charged three officials 
with raising funds for a militant training camp uncovered in Aceh in late 
February. On 12 May, police carried out a reconstruction of a meeting in South 
Jakarta involving two men now in custody known to have served as camp 
instructors and another, who wore a large name tag reading "Abu Bakar 
Ba'asyir". JAT's alleged involvement in fundraising and combat training 
immediately led to speculation that another arrest of 72-year-old Ba'asyir was 
imminent.  

Even if he is arrested – for the third time since the first Bali bombs – the 
impact will be limited, both in terms of Indonesian extremism and the domestic 
political fallout. Ba'asyir has been a perpetual thorn in the side of 
successive governments since the early 1970s. He is very much the elder 
statesman of Indonesia's radical movement, but he is neither the driving force 
behind it now nor its leading ideologue, and he has numerous critics among 
fellow jihadis who cite his lack of strategic sense and poor management skills.

That said, Ba'asyir's celebrity status and an active religious outreach 
(dakwah) campaign have turned JAT into an organisation with a nationwide 
structure within two years of its founding. It recruits through mass rallies 
and smaller religious instruction sessions in which Ba'asyir and other JAT 
figures fulminate against democracy, ad­vocate full application of Islamic law, 
and preach a militant interpretation of jihad. That public face gives 
"plausible deniability" to what appears to be covert support on the part of a 
small inner circle for the use of force. JAT cannot have it both ways: its 
attraction in the beginning was almost certainly the non-violent dakwah option 
it seemed to offer – militancy without the risks. Any esta­blished link to 
violence will lose it followers.

The truth is that the jihadi project has failed in Indonesia. The rifts and 
shifting alignments so evident now in the jihadi community are a reaction to 
that failure. There is no indication that violent extremism is gaining ground. 
Instead, as with JAT's formation, we are seeing the same old faces finding new 
packages for old goods. The far bigger challenge for Indonesia is to manage the 
aspirations of the thousands who join JAT rallies for its public message: that 
democracy is antithetical to Islam, that only an Islamic state can uphold the 
faith, and that Islamic law must be the source of all justice.

Jakarta/Brussels, 6 July 2010 

Kirim email ke