- Militant Islam in Southeast Asia: New Insights into Jihad in Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines
On 22 June 2018, Aman Abdurrahman, the head of the pro-Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) network Jamaah Ansharud Daulah (JAD), was sentenced to death for his role in inciting terror attacks in Indonesia in 2016 and 2017.1 The attacks for which he was found guilty included the January 2016 gun and bomb attack in Jakarta’s Thamrin business district and the November 2016 attack on children playing in front of a church in Samarinda, East Kalimantan.2 In the first attack, a traffic police post and a branch of Starbucks were targeted, and in the second one a two-year-old girl was killed and five other children were injured. Other attacks committed by Islamists affiliated with JAD included the May 2017 Kampung Melayu suicide bombing which killed three police officers,3 the June 2017 attack on [End Page 1] a police station in North Sumatra which killed one police officer,4 and the shooting dead of two police officers in Bima, West Nusa Tenggara, in September 2017.5
While Abdurrahman was on trial in the South District court in Jakarta, three churches were simultaneously targeted by suicide bombings in Surabaya on 13 May 2018.6 These were carried out by the members of one family comprising husband, wife and four children. Later that day, another family of six was involved in a premature bomb explosion at a house in Sidoarjo (near Surabaya), and the following day, a family of five rode two motorbikes to the entrance of Surabaya police headquarters where they blew themselves up.7 All three families were affiliated with JAD.
Militant Islamism is, of course, not a new phenomenon in Indonesia and Southeast Asia more broadly, where both colonial history and the nature of the post-colonial state have played an important role in the construction of Islamist identities. The origins of militant Islam in contemporary Indonesia, for example, go back to the 1948–65 Darul Islam rebellions,8 while the roots of modern Bangsamoro militant Islamism in the Philippines can be found in the 1968 Jabidah massacre. Factionalization has also been a prominent feature of militant Islamist movements in Southeast Asia, often coinciding with political transitions. In the Philippines, the declaration of martial law in 1972 by President Ferdinand Marcos is widely considered as a turning point in the Bangsamoro insurgency for the creation of an Islamic state in the south of the country, which has continued to this day. In Thailand’s restive Malay-Muslim majority southern border provinces, a dormant insurgency waged in the name of liberating Patani Darusslam was reignited after Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra came to power in 2002. Nevertheless, it was in Indonesia that the rise of militant Islam was most striking.
In Indonesia, the fall of President Suharto in May 1998 allowed for the return of Islamist leaders Abdullah Sungkar and Abu Bakar Ba’asyir who had fled to Malaysia in 1985 where they established Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) in 1993. JI, which drew upon the network of Southeast Asians who had travelled to Afghanistan to fight the Soviet Union after it occupied the country in 1979, or simply to get training and experience, sought to establish an Islamic state in Indonesia. While JI’s aim focused on Indonesia, JI developed a transnational structure of four mantiqis (territories) with Mantiqi 1 covering Malaysia and Singapore, Mantiqi 2 covering Indonesia excluding Sulawesi, Mantiqi 3 covering the Southern Philippines [End Page 2] and Sabah and Sulawesi, and the final mantiqi covering Australia. A subgroup within JI, associated with Mantiqi 1, mounted a campaign of violence in Indonesia from 1999 to 2003 which included the Christmas 2000 church bombings, the 2002 Bali bombings and the 2003 JW Marriot bombing. That subgroup splintered off in 2005 to form the aspirationally named Al Qaeda in the Malay Archipelago led by Noordin Mohamed Top, and went on to launch the 2005 Bali bombings and the 2009 Marriott and Ritz Carlton bombings. JI also participated in numerous attacks associated with the Poso conflict between 2001 and 2007.9 After...