Terror’s hard nuts: struggle to deradicalise Indonesian jihadists

In the lobby of a five-star hotel in central Java, Joko Tri Harmanto, a 39-year-old ex-jihadi dressed in long baggy shorts and oversized jacket, appears sullen and nervous.
The electrical engineer, who served time for harbouring 2004 Australian embassy bomb mastermind Noordin Mohammad Top in the same Solo house where he says he helped build the 2002 Bali bombs, has been out of jail for eight years and now runs a computer repair shop. Having been introduced through an Indonesianderadicalisation program, we are expecting a reformed jihadi, a family man with a new outlook and plenty of regrets. What we find instead is an unrepentant bombersaving money to fight the end-of-days war with Islamic State in Syria.
Since his release, Harmanto, also known as Jek Harun, claims to have knocked back several offers “to play” with other Indonesian extremists.
“If it is only training I don’t want to go but if it is action I will go,” he tells Inquirer, dispelling the notion that jihad is off the agenda.
“For instance, how many guns do you have? If you have 40, then we can divide into several areas and start shooting. If we die then at least a lot of other people die too, even in Indonesia, even if it’s not a conflict area. If you do any training you will get arrested, so you might as well do some killing because you’re going to get punished just the same.”
Harmanto is obviously no pin-up for Indonesia’s deradicalisation effort, but he is asuccess story of sorts — a “disengaged” extremist who cannot be dissuaded, through support, from his radical ideology but can be diverted, at least for now, fromextremist activity.
He gets that support from the Institute for International Peace Building, a small non-governmental organisation run by terror analyst Noorhuda Ismail that provides training and assistance to a few dozen ex-terror convicts and runs a deradicalisation cafe in Solo — the city in central Java, also known as Surakarta, where PresidentJoko Widodo was once mayor — where former prisoners can gather or work.
Noorhuda says Harmanto is a “big talker” but has been isolated by the jihad community in Solo and would not be trusted for “concrete” action because he is close to Ali Imron, another Bali bomber serving a life sentence in Indonesia who now lectures university students against extremism.
But Noorhuda’s institute runs on a shoestring and men such as Harmanto need long-term help to integrate back into society. That requires a systematic government and civil society effort, he says, and not the present piecemeal approach whereby hard cases fall through the cracks.
Harmanto insists most convicted terrorists who seek help do so for economic reasons, not because they are ready to give up jihad. “For instance, I work to collect money to go to Syria,” he says. “I am working now to leave enough money for my family and to finance my trip, so when I am there my family can be independent.”
The father of five trained under master Jemaah Islamiah bombmaker Dulmatin, whom he met fighting with the Islamic resistance in Ambon.
In 2002 they returned to Solo, where he helped build the components for the bombs that claimed 202 lives, including 89 Australians, in Bali in October that year.
When reports of their success in Bali filtered through, the Solo team celebrated. “We had a little party and slaughtered a goat in one of the rented houses where we built the bomb,” he says.
Harmanto was never brought to account for his role in the bombings. Instead, he was sentenced to six years’ jail for harbouring Malaysian terrorist Noordin Top andhiding weapons. He was released in 2008 after serving little more than four years.
There was no such thing as a prison deradicalisation program back then, he says. “I am still the same man I was when I went in.”
Does he regret his part in the Bali bombing, the murder of 202 people? “I feel sorry that the bomb wasn’t bigger,” he says, and laughs. “I’m sorry there was a lack of organisation. We should have co-ordinated with local emirs.
“If somebody asked me to do it again, but with better management, I would say yes.”
Indonesia’s deradicalisation effort has come under sharp scrutiny since four poorly trained gunmen attacked a police traffic post, Starbucks and a shopping mall in central Jakarta in January, killing four people and losing their own lives.
Only months earlier at least one of the attackers, Sunakim, had been released from jail after serving five years of a seven-year sentence for attending a militant training camp in Aceh in 2010. All four gunmen had recently visited Nusakambangan prisonseeking advice from Aman Abdurrahman, a hardline ideologue and central figure connecting Islamic State-affiliated groups in Indonesia.
Images of Sunakim calmly reloading his gun before fixing his sights on his next victim were particularly chilling for government officials who recognised him as having refused to participate in prison deradicalisation programs.
“I remembered his face because I remembered he did not want to follow my program,” Irfan Idris tells Inquirer. The director of deradicalisation with the government’s National Counter-terror­ism Agency (BNPT) says Suna­kim, at one time Abdur­rahman’s personal prison masseur, was among 92 terrorist prisoners released last year. Most followed the deradicalisation program “because they wanted remission”.
“From the first he was a follower of ISIS (Islamic State). The authorities knew that but there’s no regulation to bring them (back) to prison without evidence.”
Indonesian law does not prohibit citizens from supporting groups such as Islamic State or fighting for them in other countries. Hate speech is not illegal and police say they have limited powers for the preventive detention of terror suspects: they can arrest them only once they have committed a crime on Indonesian soil.
The legal limitations reflect Indonesians’ fear of handing too much power to security forces, less than 20 years after the fall of the Suharto military dictatorship.
However, in the wake of the January terror attack the government had public sympathy behind it. As its specialist counter-terrorism police unit, Detachment 88, moved on extremist networks with mass arrests, the administration quickly drafted new laws proposing greater police powers, outlawing support for terrorists groups and for Indonesians to wage jihad on foreign soil.
But the death in custody in March of Siyono, 34, a rice farmer suspected of harbouring a weapons cache for a new JI group, has become a lightning rod for Indonesians who oppose a more powerful security force, and the legislation is stalled in parliament.
An hour out of Solo, down a warren of pretty rural byways, the Pogung village mosque is where Siyono was arrested during evening prayers on March 8.
The community is proud of its mosque, as it is of the little church nearby, and says there has never been any trouble between the two.
It is “the least radical place I know”, says Husni Thamrin, a local development officer with Muhammadiyah, one of Indonesia’s largest Muslim associations, which has been supporting the grieving family.
But the questions that linger over Siyono’s death have brought suspicion and tension. His family says he was taken with no explanation and no chance to say goodbye. Two days after his arrest scores of police raided the house as his wife, Suratni, hosted a morning kindergarten class.
“They came in with guns and all the children were crying,” she says as her four and eight-year-old sons play marbles on the mosque’s green carpet and she cradles her two-year-old in her lap.
A day later the family was told Siyono was being held in Jakarta. Police sent a car for his wife and brother Wagiyono and said they could see him the next morning.
“The next day they said Siyono had already passed away,” says Wagiyono. “We didn’t get to see him. We don’t know when he died. They took us to the hospital but we were so shocked we didn’t think to ask questions. They didn’t let us see the body, only the face, but we could see there were a lot of bruises. After that the police gave us money.” The family handed the fat bricks of rupiah, the equivalent of about $10,000, straight to Muhammadiyah and begged for help.
Three weeks later, Siyono’s body was exhumed and an autopsy performed at the gravesite. Two Detachment 88 officers have since faced a closed-door “ethics trial” and been temporarily demoted.
In the absence of an official explanation for Siyono’s death, the autopsy was enlightening.
The father of five had five broken ribs, one of which pierced his heart. He also suffered head trauma but doctors say it is the punctured heart that killed him.
Muhammadiyah has since filed a police report and says it will push the case to trial. “Enforcing the law should not be done by violating another law, so … we will fight for justice,” Thamrin says.
Adhe Bhakti, executive director of Indonesia’s Centre for the Study of Radicalism and Deradicalisation, says the Siyono case has had ramifications for his work, which involves trying to get ex-­jihadists who were released before the state deradicalisation effort began to join a program.
“I work in six of BNPT’s 70 provinces and when I do my doorknocking they always bring up Siyono. They say, ‘Why should we co-operate with you?’ ” he says.
“The Siyono case is very important for Indonesia because lawmakers are now saying, ‘They already have the right to hold people for seven days and look what happens. What would they do if they had 30 days?’ ”
Solo is an intense microcosm of a broader Indonesian conundrum — a largely moderate Islamic society with a growing conservatism and thin vein of radicalism.
Until its former mayor was elected Indonesian President in 2014, the central Javanese town was most famous as the base for JI and the Pesantren al-Mukmin Ngruki, an Islamic boarding school founded by Abu Bakar Bashir and once dubbed the Ivy League for terrorists.
The school has educated, and perhaps radicalised, some of Indonesia’s mostnotorious extremists, including Bali bombers Amrozi, Mukhlas, Idris and Mubarok, who used the town as a base from which to plan the attack. Earlier this year, BNPT declared it one of the most radical schools in Indonesia.
Al-Mukmin accused the counter-terrorism agency of slander, pointing out the school had a curriculum and was officially registered, “the same as other Islamic boarding schools in Indonesia”.
“We have people from the education ministrydomestic affairs ministry come over and talk to the students,” school spokesman Hamin Sofyan tells Inquirer. The school claims to have distanced itself from its founder, Bashir, the radical cleric andspiritual leader of the al-Qa’ida-affiliated JI who in 2014 swore allegiance to Islamic State from jail.
It is now run by his son Abdul Rahim, who publicly split from his father over the latter’s Islamic State affiliations, though Bashir remains a respected figurehead.
Sofyan insists violence is not taught at the school but adds that what students do once they leave is “not our responsibility”. He also dodges questions over whether the school, like several offshoots, has failed to dispel its extremist reputation because the image is good for business.
“There’s nothing we need to do (about reputation),” he says. “Society understands what we do.”
Sidney Jones from the Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict says the school is still a hub for radical networks. “There are a lot of people from radical organisations other than JI who send their kids to Ngruki because it has such a cachet,” she says.
In July 2014, 700 people pledged allegiance to Islamic State at an iftar event (thesunset meal during the fasting month of Ramadan) in Solo’s Baitul Makmur mosque. Afif Abdul Majid, the cleric who led that declaration, a teacher from al-Mukmin and former senior JI man, has since been jailed after police revived charges of supporting the 2010 Aceh military training camp — illustrating the limitations of current anti-terror laws. Authorities knew Abdul Majid had gone to Syria to train with Islamic State but were powerless to charge him.
The mosque’s elderly manager says he had no idea what Abdul Majid was planning and denies the mosque has any affiliation with Islamic State or JI, though he is “happy with the free publicity” and says there have been no consequences, apart from more visitors.
Indonesia is often held up as an example of how to counter violent extremismthrough a combination of carrot and stick — the latter wielded with devastating effect by Detachment 88, which effectively dismantled JI with the aid of Australian funds and training.
The unit is seen by some as the country’s last line of defence against terrorism and by others as part of a Western conspiracy to keep Islam down.
Since 2002, security forces have captured about 1000 militants involved in acts of terrorism or recruitment, killed hundreds more, and averted countless terror plots. Until January, the last major attacks were the 2009 Noordin Top bombings of the Ritz Carlton and JW Marriott hotels in Jakarta.
But the rise of Islamic State has revitalised Indonesia’s jihadist community, even as it has split it into pro and anti-Islamic State ­forces. Though the January Jakartagunmen lacked the weapons training and arsenal to cause mass casualties, their links to Islamic State through Indonesian umbrella affiliate Jamaah Anshar Khilafah (Partisans of the Caliphate) foreshadows a potential new threat.
Australian security agencies believe the terror threat in Indonesia has risen in the past year, particularly since Islamic State began urging followers to wage jihad there, though authorities point to strong opposition to Islamic State within the community and even among other hardline groups.
The most reliable intelligence estimates put the number of Indonesians who have left to join Islamic State in Syria at between 300 and 500, including women and children. Some made it, some didn’t, and there is reportedly a queue of aspiring jihadists inIndonesia still hoping to go.
“What everyone is waiting for is that all these fighters come back from Syria,” says Nava Nuraniyah from Jakarta’s Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict. “One pro-ISIS cleric said some of the Syrian fighters are being trained to return to Southeast Asia.”
There is speculation also of competition between the Indonesian Islamic State factions in Syria as to who can be the first to get a trained instructor back intoIndonesia — a potentially critical turning point, given the ineptitude of the January gunmen.
BNPT’s Idris says Indonesia must “tighten legislation so that hate speech becomes criminal and military training also”, adding: “Those who are impressed by ISIS, we will revoke their citizenship. If we can prove they joined ISIS in Syria, then they can’t come back.”
However, an IPAC analysis of Indonesia’s pro-Islamic State hierarchy published in February warned the government was focusing on anti-terror laws at the expense of stemming the spread of radicalism within prisons and among recent deportees. Promises of generous salaries, even pledges to extinguish debt, have lured poor Indonesians and their families to Syria, just as the call to an Islamic caliphate and an end-of-days jihad has lured middle-class adventurists, students and radicalised ex-convicts.
“If the government is interested in experimenting with targeted deradicalisation programs, they could usefully develop activities for deportees from Turkey — about 60 per cent of whom are women and children,” IPAC says.
“These people are not ‘returnees’; they never got to Syria, never had military training or combat experience. But they wanted to join ISIS and the government needs to understand why and help them find alternative networks.”
That hasn’t happened, leaving more than 200 people, who blew their money trying to get to Syria and returned with little to show for it, vulnerable to re-recruitment.
Part of the problem, according to one insider, is conflict over which ministry should follow up with deportees, as well as different approaches in the BNPT, which is made up of seconded officials from historical rivals: the military and the police. This also bedevils other aspects of Indonesia’s deradicalisation effort, includingintelligence sharing, despite a recent push to better co-ordinate efforts.
The IPAC report concludes BNPT has “not been effective in its prevention and deradicalisation work”: its programs are too broad and rely too heavily on mainstream clerics who are seen as part of the problem by the extremists they are trying to reach.
Though the government has tightened security and access to its most high-profile terrorist prisoners, including Bashir and Abdurrahman, everyone agrees more post-prison monitoring is needed.
Bhakti estimates up to 30 per cent of Indonesia’s terror convicts are resistant to deradicalisation and “we don’t know what to do with them”. He says: “There are only two outputs from what we are doing; co-operation and non-cooperation.”
Those who co-operate receive religious instruction from moderate clerics, skills training and livelihood support. But, says Bhakti, “I don’t know what they’re doing at the moment with these names that won’t follow the program. They should send them to the police or intelligence for monitoring.”
Most people in Indonesia’s deradicalisation industry admit they don’t know how to crack the “hard nuts”, those who refuse to join programs or even apply for early jail release because they do not recognise the law of the state.
But growing concern has led to an edgy experiment. Two months ago, security officials in Jakarta gathered six men in a room, three of them known representatives of Islamic State-affiliated groups and the rest loosely affiliated with al-Qa’ida groups such as JI.
The meeting ended in a shouting match but the idea of luring Islamic State loyalists, called to wage violent jihad wherever they are, to meet those seen as less immediately threatening extremists did not start or end there.
Of late, several recently released jihadists opposed to Islamic State have been quietly dispatched to prisons to rebut Islamic State ideology with al-Qa’ida texts. The ex-jihadists work under the radar, visiting “target” prisoners to discuss Islamic State’stheological errors without revealing they are doing so under BNPT auspices.
“If you can bring them over from the ISIS side then the idea is you can at least postpone the violence,” says Nuraniyah.
“I don’t know how it’s going to work (in the long run) but at least we know it’s buying time. You can’t turn them from extremist to moderate but you can turn them from extremist to less extremist.”
Among the BNPT operatives is a former trainer from the 2010 Aceh militant camp, released from jail last year, who tells Inquirer he uses translated al-Qa’ida articles to counter Islamic State indoctrination.
“For example, al-Qa’ida is saying jihad can’t be done outside conflict areas, which means you can’t do violent jihad in Indonesia. If that was said by someone who is not a jihadi, people in prison wouldn’t listen. But I feel they listen to me. We read the scripts and we have discussions,” he says.
The ex-jihadist says the program is working — he even had a promising three-hour discussion with Bashir — but bureaucratic jostling over who should handle the program has forced its suspension. The April meeting of pro and anti-Islamic Stateaffiliates, however, has taken on a life of its own. Last month, the argument continued in a debate streamed online.
Good v bad jihadi is a familiar and risky strategy (remember good and bad Taliban?), but it is one that the US Agency for International Development, in a January report on Indonesia and Malaysia, acknowledged had upsides. It found “the immediate threat posed by these anti-ISIS groups is much less than the pro-ISIS groups and, indeed, they play a crucial role in de-legitimising the Islamic State message and appeal”.
“For many radicalised Muslims, reading criticisms of ISIS on a jihadist website has far greater impact than receiving this information from government sources, moderate Muslim leaders or mainstream media,” it says. However, it adds: “These anti-ISIS groups are far from benign. They remain committed to the principle of jihad and regard the use of violence as justifiable under certain conditions.”
It is not a strategy that would fly in Australia, where deradicalisation efforts steerwell clear of using nonviolent hardliners. Certainly it’s contentious, says Greg Fealy, co-author of the USAID study and associate professor of Indonesian politics at theAustralian National University. “But (in Indonesia at least) they may be the best people to persuade a jihadist from joining ISIS. You then have the problem of what that person might do next, because JI is on the way back.
“They’re not an innocuous organisation, but for the moment they’re not engaged in violence, so they are the least worst option.”

Additional reporting: Gita Athika

Source: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/inquirer/terrors-hard-nuts-struggle-to-deradicalise-indonesian-jihadists/news-story/b34ab8fe364f8ee9dcd1ac6c06250251


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