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The Decline of Terrorism in Indonesia? - By Nathan Wilson

Recently, it has been revealed in Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post (SCMP) that the leader of Al-Qaeda’s Indonesian affiliate, Jemaah Islamiah (JI) (the group responsible for the 2002 Bali Bombings) was arrested alongside a number of JI’s bomb making experts, a security source told the SCMP.


JI have been responsible for nearly all Indonesian terrorist attacks from 1998 to 2010. This was before the gradual waning of the organisation under the efforts of Detachment 88 (Indonesian Counterterrorism police), who since 2010 have arrested thousands of JI members. However, until recently, the group have gradually remerged as a result of increased business exploits in mining and palm oil.


The leader was identified as being Ustad Arif, who originates from Klaten in Central Java and has been the second JI leader to be arrested in the last two years. His predecessor, Para Wijayanto, was arrested in July 2019 and was imprisoned on terrorist charges after ordering JI members to fight for ISIS in Syria in recent years.


Following Wijayanto’s arrest, Detachment 88 revealed that he had completely rebuilt and redeveloped JI into a hybrid terrorism-business. JI was advancing, moving away from charitable donations and becoming self-sustainable by developing its own business interests through commercial enterprises (the Palm Oil industry being just one source of revenue). Consequently, under Wijayanto’s leadership, JI generated enough income to pay enticing salaries to its officers which in turn heightened the appeal of Indonesian radicalism.


Moreover, Indonesian police also arrested Upik Lawanga - one of Indonesia’s most infamous bomb makers who had been one of the country’s most wanted for over fourteen years. Upik had been known as the ‘Professor’ and had been one of Dr Azahari Hussein’s most infamous ‘students’.


For clarity, Azahari Hussein was a Malaysian, who designed the bombs used in the 2002 Bali attacks, tragically murdered 202 people. Azahari was later killed in a police shoot-out in East Java in 2005 after Detachment 88 hunted him down - a remarkable achievement in the fight against extremism as Azahari was one of the deadliest bomb makers in Southeast Asia. However, security forces were greatly worried that he has cemented his legacy by bestowing his dangerous knowledge onto his students.


Indeed, Lawanaga was testament to such a legacy as he developed a number of deadly IED’s (Improvised explosive devices) from Azahari’s designs said Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay, the former counterterrorism chief of the Malaysian special branch, the intelligence arm of the Royal Malaysian Police.


In a similar light, according to Ayob, many JI members could fully assemble IED’s according to Azahiri’s designs. This follows as his student Upik, also a skilled bomb maker, was responsible for detonating a number of bombs in Central Suluwesi between 2005 and 2007. In all it is estimated that Upik has been responsible for the deaths of some 22 people during his activity. Following this period, it is believed that Upik went underground, keeping a low profile in order to avoid police attention and continue Azahari’s legacy.


In addition to this, it has been revealed that on 10th December JI leader Aris Sumarsono (AKA Zulkarnaen) had been arrested by Detachment 88 during a raid in Sumatra’s East Lampung district, according to spokesperson Ahmad Ramadhan. Another student of Azahari’s, Zulkarnean was suspected of being another bomb maker of the 2002 Bali attacks as well as the 2003 JW Marriott Hotel attack in Jakarta, that killed 12. A particular notorious jihadi, Zulkarnaen was one of the first Indonesians to travel to train in Afghanistan before 2001 and in the past has been accused of harbouring Upik and Lawanga.


Overall, what this has shown is that Indonesian security forces have generated a large amount of success recently in the hunt for JI while extinguishing the legacy of Azahari Hussein. What will be interesting will be to see how the security services can learn from this recent success of South East Asia’s War on Terror and continue the momentum.


Nathan Wilson is a student of philosophy and politics at the University of Stirling, specialising in International Politics and Political Violence within the Asia-Pacific region. He previously studied abroad at Lingnan University in Hong Kong

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