Indonesia is intensifying its efforts to mitigate any fallout from home-grown recruits returning from the battlefields in the Middle East, where hundreds have fought with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
The Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), which has a membership of 50 million Sunni Muslims across Indonesia, is conducting an anti-extremism campaign denouncing ISIS. Indonesia’s campaign is proving to be a timely throw back to that old maxim: what’s old is new again. NU was established and found its feet in the 1920s when Wahhabism – an orthodox brand of Islam based in Saudi Arabia – was spreading its fanatical tentacles. Osama bin Laden was an adherent of the sect.
The NU campaign coincides with hearings against at least 13 men now facing charges of conspiring with terrorists. Aged between 32 and 51, seven of the 13 are on trial together. They had raised fears that militants could return and carry out strikes on home soil, where the memories of the carnage caused from bombings conducted by Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) – an al-Qaeda affiliate – remain vivid.
Trials involving another six are also underway. They all face up to 20 years behind bars under Indonesia’s tough counter-terrorism laws.
Further, Indonesians found guilty of pledging allegiance to ISIS are also considered to have pledged allegiance to a foreign country, and this can result in a person’s citizenship being revoked.
Among the militants is Tuah Febriwansyah, an Internet savvy militant who has used his own website to publish the violent antics of ISIS, also known as the Daesh .
ISIS videos calling for jihad in Indonesia have found a regular place on social media and YouTube. A recent nine-minute video posted on the Internet called for attacks on Indonesia’s Presidential Palace and the Jakarta Police headquarters before it was blocked.
Authorities say an estimated 700 Indonesians are now fighting in Iraq and Syria. Another 200 people from Malaysia, Singapore, and the Philippines, authorities believe, have also taken up arms in the Middle East in a conflict which has highlighted the differences between the Sunni and Shia branches of Islam.
There are also fears that the Abu Sayyaf – whose specialty remains kidnapping and ransom – in the Southern Philippines is also tying-up with the Daesh, resurrecting JI demands for an Islamic caliphate across Southeast Asia.
A separate report quoted national police spokesman Anton Charliyan as saying the East Indonesian Mujahidin terrorist group, known by its Indonesian acronym MIT and led by Santoso, one of the most wanted terrorists in Indonesia, had been receiving cash and assistance from ISIS, which is also calling for attacks on Western targets.
He said ISIS was spreading its propaganda across five Indonesian provinces – East Java, Lampung, Central Sulawesi, South Sulawesi, and West Sulawesi.
“The Santoso group is part of the ISIS network. You can see that the Poso terror group even has anti-tank weapons,” he said. “It’s not easy to break into the terrorist lair, but we keep on trying.”
In its latest risk assessment report, IHS Jane’s 360 stressed there were no indications that Santoso’s group had the capacity to carry out attacks in Jakarta or against well-protected state targets.
However, it said the threat indicated an increased risk of attacks on hotels and clubs, potentially involving small arms and crude improvised explosive devices in cities such as Surabaya, Solo, and Makassar, and in Central Sulawesi where MIT is based.
“The timing of the video upload, nine days after the Paris attacks, provided the group with widespread media exposure. However, a stronger tactical motivation for MIT is probably to strike back against security operations which have restricted its movement,” Jane’s said.
Luke Hunt can be followed on Twitter @lukeanthonyhunt