Indonesia terror optimism premature 

*       Sally Neighbour 
*       From: The Australian <>  
*       August 14, 2010 12:00AM 

 IN September 2005, former foreign minister Gareth Evans famously announced
the militant group Jemaah Islamiah had been "decimated". 

Four days later, JI recruits detonated bomb-laden backpacks at restaurants
in Kuta and Jimbaran Bay, Bali, leaving 23 people dead and 102 wounded.

Last month, the think tank Evans used to head, the International Crisis
Group, reported in its latest assessment: "The jihadi project has failed in
Indonesia. There is no indication that violent extremism is gaining ground."

But while there is no doubting the success of Indonesia's counter-terrorism
efforts -- or the ICG's unrivalled expertise on the subject -- the events
surrounding this week's arrest of militant cleric Abu Bakar Bashir, amid
revelations of new plans for terrorist bombings, suggest the latest
optimistic projection may also prove premature.

The trail of evidence that led to Bashir shows the ever-evolving jihadi
movement is alive and flourishing, still able to recruit and train new foot
soldiers, raise funds, source weapons and explosives and make advanced plans
for attacks. It indicates the recent lull in activity has signified a
strategic regrouping rather than its demise. The question is not whether
they still have the intent and capacity to carry out atrocities, but only
how long it will take them to do so again.

The events immediately leading to Bashir's detention began in February, when
police discovered a new militant training camp in the northwestern province
of Aceh. It was headed by legendary JI fugitive Dulmatin, an Afghan-trained
militant and one of the original Bali bombers, who had evaded capture since

The Aceh operation represented a "third wave" of Indonesian jihadism and a
coming together of virtually every known militant organisation in Indonesia
to kickstart the jihadi movement all over again.

It is chronicled in compelling detail in two ICG reports, Jihadi Surprise in
Aceh and The Dark side of Jama'ah Ansharut Tauhid, published in April and
last month.

JAT is the organisation Bashir founded in 2008, two years after his release
from prison, after falling out with colleagues in his old group, the Majelis
Mujahidin Indonesia, who didn't like the personality cult being built around
Bashir. The cleric had also been criticised by the younger firebrands of JI
for being too soft.

So he formed JAT to, in its own words, "revitalise the Islamic movement in
support of full victory for the struggle". Its senior membership included
close associates of the bombing mastermind Noordin Top, killed by Indonesian
police last September. While Bashir publicly disavowed terrorism, there were
reports JAT had a secret military wing and a jihadist agenda it deliberately
kept hidden.

Former Australian JI member and Bashir follower Jack Roche, who served 4 1/2
years in prison over a plot to bomb the Israeli embassy in Canberra, says
Bashir follows the Islamic principle that "deception in war is valid", which
explains his "not guilty of anything" stand.

Bashir's former follower, Dulmatin, had returned to Indonesia in 2007 as an
iconic figure in the jihadist movement because of his training in
Afghanistan, combat experience in Mindanao and the $US10 million bounty
placed on his head by the US government.

Dulmatin's plan was to unite the various militant groups, establish a new
base in Aceh, refocus on securing an Islamic state in Indonesia and shift
away from terrorist attacks aimed at foreigners towards targeted
assassinations of Indonesian officials who stood in the way. Indonesian
police say it was Bashir who appointed Dulmatin to this role, raised funds
for the Aceh training program and oversaw its development.

The venture, which branded itself al-Qa'ida in Aceh, was blown open after a
villager reported strange activity in the forest. Police swooped, arrested
48 people and killed eight, including Dulmatin, who was shot dead in Jakarta
on March 9.

Two months later, three senior members of Bashir's JAT were arrested and
accused of raising $155,000 to fund the Aceh project, making it one of the
most costly operations ever by an Indonesian jihadist group.

As the arrests continued, police said they had uncovered a plot to
assassinate President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and senior government members
in a guerilla-style attack on the presidential palace on Independence Day,
this Tuesday, to be modelled on the 2008 Mumbai attacks in which Islamists
killed 173 people.

In another raid in West Java last Saturday, police arrested five men,
including a chemical engineer, and seized explosives and bomb-making tools.
Police spokesman Edward Aritonang told a press conference in Jakarta on
Monday the men had plans to bomb more than two foreign embassies,
international hotels and police facilities. Bashir's arrest followed two
days later.

"I don't think the jihadist movement in Indonesia will be greatly affected
by his arrest," says Roche. "There are many hardened leader replacements
capable of taking over the reins of groups like JI or JAT. I doubt very much
that capturing their leader will disunite those that remain behind. In fact,
there is a strong chance that it will serve to galvanise them even more."

Apart from the planned carnage and the extraordinary resilience shown by the
militants, there are many disturbing elements in the evidence so far. One is
that some of the 100 or so suspects arrested so far had previously been
convicted of terror-related offences, imprisoned, then released, apparently
undaunted. Others among them had been recruited in jail or had been inspired
after attending sermons held by convicted terrorists in prison.

Another worry is that the Indonesian militants maintain strong overseas
connections. The ICG reports that court documents in the case of one
prominent jihadist, currently on trial, show he met the late Pakistan
Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, had regular communication with al-Qa'ida's
media division, al-Sahab, and was trying to send Indonesians to train in
Waziristan, Pakistan.

Noor Huda Ismail, a former student at Bashir's Islamic school and roommate
of one of the Bali bombers, who now works as a security analyst in Jakarta,
says the militants' longevity and ingenuity should not be underestimated.

"The jihadist movement in Indonesia is not a single cohesive group. It is a
consortium of groups, and each of them has its own agenda. They have the
ability to rejuvenate themselves and find ways to form new groups. We won't
solve the terrorist problem in Indonesia any time soon."

The Indonesian police should be applauded for their latest success, but it's
too soon for celebration, as the ICG points out: "The 'third wave' of
Indonesian jihadism is temporarily smashed. But there are enough individuals
left from the different groups involved for them to assess what went wrong
and try again."


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