Islamic Militancy: Jakarta Hits Back


Indonesia has developed a ruthless reputation over the way it handles Islamic militants. More than 100 alleged terrorists have been captured or killed this year alone in a crackdown headed by the Detachment 88 counterterrorism unit.

The unit’s biggest break came in Aceh earlier this year after militants started trying to cobble together what became known in some quarters as the ‘Coalition of the Leftovers’ on the home ground of Acehnese separatists at the north-eastern tip of Sumatra.

Jihad remnants of the splintered Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) and an assortment of other outfits had gathered at a paramilitary training camp in the mountains of Aceh determined to re-group.Among their plans was an attack on the Presidential Palace and state guests who would be gathered there for the Independence Day ceremonies in August.

Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.

But the police were tipped off and raided the base on February 22;three officers and one terrorist were killed during the raid. Despite the inauspicious start to the operation, the balance has shifted, with another 13 alleged terrorists killed by police and more than 60 arrested.

Among the dead was Dulmutin, by far the most prominent member of JI, who was also wanted in connection with the 2002 Bali bombings and who carried a $10 million reward on his head.However, Dulmutin’s favoured cohort, Omar Patek, is still at large and was recently sighted on the island province of Tawi Tawi in the Southern Philippines. He’s now probably the region’s most wanted terrorist.

But it looks like a potentially bigger prize hasn’t eluded the authorities— radical cleric Abu Bakar Bashir. The police believe Bashir is a key player in the organizational structure of terror cells as opposed to being the simple preacher he has always claimed to be. He’s now in front of the courts again after being arrested in August on charges relating to the Aceh paramilitary camp.

Bashir insists the Bali bombing eight years ago that left more than 200 dead was the result of an offshore missile fired by the CIA. The September 11, 2001, strikes by al-Qaeda, a JI affiliate, were part of an Israeli conspiracy to make Muslims look bad, he says.  

He also insists that he has never been a terrorist because he has never killed anyone and that JI— where he sat as spiritual head—never even existed.However, some of those close to him have suggested otherwise, arguing the 72-year-old Javanese cleric has a two-pronged strategy that advocates terrorism in private while promoting conspiracy theories in public.

Sign up for our weekly newsletter
The Diplomat Brief