Indonesian terrorists 'wait for end of world' as coronavirus bites

Indonesian extremists are holding back attacks during the coronavirus outbreak to stay at home and wait for the end of the world as foretold in Islamic prophecies - and, perhaps, score a chance to die as martyrs and enter paradise.

According to an April 2 report by the Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC), some supporters of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, terror group consider the pandemic as the ta'un, or plague in Arabic, cited in various hadith, or the words and practices of Prophet Muhammad.

"When the plague comes, according to these hadith, Muslims must stay at home and be patient. If a Muslim does this and then dies, he will still be considered a martyr," the report said.

"ISIS supporters who take this view tend to choose to stay at home and not undertake jihad operations (amaliyah) - especially if they get the same heavenly reward by doing so," it added.

Some also view the health crisis as a "dress rehearsal" for a dukhon, an occurrence of a hot cloud that will cover parts of the earth for 40 days and 40 nights, before the appearance of the promised Islamic messiah, known as Imam Mahdi, ahead of the Day of Judgement.

This group of supporters also preferred to stay at home to train their family members to prepare for the end of time, which they believe is imminent, the report said.

Preparations include teaching them to chant and pray, rely less on gadgets, and adopt survival skills such as lighting a fire using flint, making a wooden shelter and finding fresh water from the trunks of banana trees, according to one post by an ISIS supporter cited in a report by The Stabilisation Network (TSN), a Dubai-based consultancy on global violent extremism research.

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Another post, also cited in the TSN report, said: "Lockdowns for now are uncomfortable, boring, isolating and restrict your freedom. But remember, this is only a simulation of The Darkening."

Terror experts and law enforcement officials interviewed by The Straits Times echoed the views in the reports, saying this could be a reason for fewer attacks and arrests during the current period.

Some 23 terror suspects have been arrested in the first quarter of this year compared to 68 arrested and indicted between last October and December. None of this year's cases, however, appeared to be plots linked to the coronavirus.

But dangers continue to lurk, experts say. With Indonesian cities grappling with the rapid spread of the virus and adopting strict social distancing measures, extremists were likely using the time to boost recruitment, raise funds, consolidate support and even plot future terror attacks, they said.

Dr Noor Huda Ismail, a deradicalisation expert and visiting fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, told ST: "Some of them really want to use this pandemic as an opportunity to launch attacks.

"It's important to note that ISIS (supporters) in Indonesia are never a cohesive organisation."

The IPAC said some ISIS supporters felt the pandemic presented the "best opportunity" to strike, with the government preoccupied in containing the disease.

A possible method of attack would be for virus-strickened militants to deliberately infect those they consider their enemies, such as the police, the report added.

Terror analyst Adhe Bhakti from the Jakarta-based Centre for Radicalism and Deradicalisation Studies, said some ISIS supporters were collecting funds to buy basic essentials such as rice and sugar to distribute among themselves, as well as the public affected by the pandemic.

"This social activity will not only strengthen the loyalty of their existing members, but also draw new members," he told ST.

Against this backdrop, law enforcement agencies such as the Indonesian Counter-Terrorism Agency, or BNPT, continue to be vigilant in monitoring militant groups.

Mr Andhika Chrisnayudhanto, BNPT's deputy for international cooperation, told ST: "Those who ascribe to the end of the world view may be radical, but they are staying at home and not doing anything. Who we must be careful of are those who are urging for terror actions."

Regionally and internationally, anti-terror officials are holding video conferences to share notes on how to prevent terror attacks, he added.

Mr Andhika also said efforts were being channelled to quash conspiracy theories spread by the extremists to gain support.

"The ISIS supporters say the Westerners (affected) by the coronavirus are being taught a lesson by God, and that the Chinese were also being punished by God for what they had done to Uighur Muslims," he said.

"This is dangerous. We try to change the narratives and explain that this is a pandemic. Nobody wants it to happen... and it has nothing to do with God's punishment."


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