- Terrorism in IndonesiaA Fading Threat?
Violent extremism in Indonesia continued to be low-tech and low-casualty, but groups continued to proliferate from Sumatra to Sumbawa, and there seemed to be an inexhaustible supply of recruits. The typical terrorist suspect was not a mass killer with global ambitions; he was more likely to be one step up from a petty criminal whose efforts to make simple pipe bombs almost always failed. There were no women among the 66 arrested and 21 suspects killed during 2013. One attempted suicide bombing killed only the bomber. Guns were in high demand, used for fund-raising robberies and revenge attacks on police — terrorists managed to kill three officers, down from eight in 2012. While police continued to be the primary target, several plots were hatched, all unsuccessful, to avenge attacks on Muslims in Myanmar. Despite the generally low capacity of would-be terrorists, however, concerns were mounting that three factors could lead to new enthusiasm for jihad at home: anger over deaths of suspects in police operations; releases from prison of convicted extremists; and the return of Indonesian fighters from Syria.
Most of the Islamist violence during the year was attributable to two networks, the Mujahidin of Eastern Indonesia (Mujahidin Indonesia Timur, MIT), based in Poso, Central Sulawesi, and the Mujahidin of Western Indonesia (Mujahidin Indonesia Barat, MIB), based in greater Jakarta and West Java. Both were alliances that included splinter groups of Darul Islam, the venerable sixty-five-year-old Islamic insurgency, and defectors from JAT, but the two were not formally linked. At year’s end, MIT was still alive, if besieged; MIB had been largely crushed. The once-feared Jemaah Islamiyah, which since 2007 had disengaged from violence in Indonesia, was reburnishing its reputation as a jihadi organization through its channels to Syrian Islamist rebels. [End Page 139]
In addition to Islamist groups, a tiny but growing anarchist movement with international links launched a number of arson attacks across the country from Jakarta to Aceh to South Kalimantan. The media paid no attention, much to the chagrin of those involved.
Mujahidin of Eastern Indonesia
MIT, led by Santoso alias Abu Wardah, a former member of JI’s affiliate in Poso, grew out of a JAT military cell in Central Sulawesi that was formed in 2010 in the aftermath of the break-up by police of a militant training camp in Aceh.1 JAT, which had provided funding for the Aceh camp, saw Poso as its replacement, reviving an old JI vision of the area as a secure base (qoidah aminah) that could serve as a jihadi training centre while also becoming the nucleus of an Islamic community. Arrests and killings of terrorist suspects by police in the aftermath of the Aceh debacle had already turned police into Enemy No. 1 for Indonesian jihadis; Santoso also saw attacks on them as a way of securing badly needed weapons.
The training courses and commitment to active operations enhanced Santoso’s reputation among jihadis but quickly made him too big for JAT, in his own estimation, if not JAT’s. The first release in the name of MIT, with Santoso calling himself the “Indonesian Zarqawi” in reference to the late commander of the Iraqi insurgency, appeared on radical websites in October 2012, just after the discovery of the bodies of two police officers that his men had abducted a week earlier and nearly beheaded.
Helping Santoso’s beleaguered fighters with money, arms and personnel became an obligation for jihadi groups around the country, and MIT attracted support from North Sumatra, South Sulawesi, East Kalimantan, Nusa Tenggara Barat and across Java. In July and October 2013, Santoso appeared on poorlymade videos urging attacks on Detachment 88, the counter-terrorism unit of the police. The videos, posted on YouTube, show how parochial his objectives were and how far removed he was from the global jihad, despite his moniker. His capacity to attack also seemed diminished — while his men had managed to kill six police officers in Poso in 2012, they managed only one attempt in 2013, when on 3 June, a man from East Java detonated a bomb in...