Indonesia Warns of Islamic State Threat from Malaysia

Counterterrorism chief sounds alarm on foreign fighter threat.

Indonesia Warns of Islamic State Threat from Malaysia
Credit: Flickr/ Karl-Ludwig Poggemann

Indonesia’s counterterrorism chief has warned that the Islamic State (IS) is collaborating with people-smuggling networks to bring foreign fighters to Indonesia from Malaysia.

Saud Usman Nasution, the head of Indonesia’s counterterrorism agency, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that the IS fighters arrive from Malaysia in Sumatra, after which they are taken to Poso in central Sulawesi, believed to be a training ground for IS fighters.

“We see that some foreign terrorist fighters from overseas come to Indonesia. First they leave Malaysia and head for Pekanbaru (Sumatra) to Puncak (west Java) — it’s all facilitated by asylum seeker networks, then from Puncak they would leave to Makassar and Poso, with facilitation from ISIS network,” he said.

“So we need to stay vigilant, more so because there is information that in Malaysia, there are thousands, a lot of foreign terrorist fighters there who are about to be deployed — we don’t know where to — under the network,” he added.

Nasution characterized the IS threat to Indonesia as “significantly serious,” which is not surprising considering recent developments. To take just one example, in August, as I reported then, Indonesia foiled an alleged plot by IS supporters to bomb a police station and churches in the country during its independence day celebrations (See: “Indonesia Foils Deadly Islamic State Attack”).

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In terms of numbers, Nasution said it was unclear exactly how many Indonesians went to Syria and Iraq to join IS because they transited through several countries to get there. But government estimates have tended to run in the several hundreds, with Nasution himself saying last December that around 514 Indonesians had gone to join IS, with about half being students or migrant workers who had already been living in neighboring countries (See: “Islamic State Fears Mounting in Indonesia, Malaysia”).

He did reveal, however, that 76 Indonesians had returned from Syria, while 52 died there and four had acted as suicide bombers.

Indonesia and Malaysia have been strengthening their cooperation on counterterrorism amid the rising threat of IS. Following a four-day working visit by Malaysia’s deputy prime minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi to Jakarta last week, the two countries agreed to cooperate on de-radicalization efforts, with Malaysia’s Home Ministry hosting an international workshop next year that is expected to come up with a standard operating procedure on handling the issue (See: “Malaysia, Indonesia Boost Counterterrorism Cooperation”).

The two Muslim-majority countries also discussed efforts to step up cooperation and exchange of intelligence information on counterterrorism issues.