More terror attacks in Indonesia are likely as Islamic State (IS) leaders battle for influence, a new report by an influential Jakarta-based group has found.
As Indonesia recovers from the deadly attacks which rocked Jakarta on the morning of January 14, a trio of Indonesians based with ISIS in Syria are competing to encourage and fund their contacts in Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines to undertake attacks, while some groups in Indonesia simultaneously act on their own without direction from the Middle East, the report released by the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC) on February 2 concluded. The competition among these groups, the report argues, is likely to fuel violence in the world’s most populous Muslim nation.
“More terrorist attacks in Indonesia are likely as local ISIS leaders compete at home and abroad to establish their supremacy,” the report argues.
Of the trio of Indonesians in Syria, Bahrumsyah (alias Abu Ibrahim) commands Katibah Nusantara, the Indonesian-Malaysian military unit in ISIS, his rival Salim Mubarok (alias Abu Jandal) heads a dissident unit Katibah Masyaariq, while Bahrun Naim has tried to stay neutral between the two Katibahs, the report notes. A range of pro-ISIS groups also exist within Indonesia, including Partisans of the Caliphate (Jamaah Anshar Khilafah, JAK) led by the imprisoned cleric Aman Abdurrahman and loosely aligned with Abu Jandal’s Katibah Masyaariq; the Mujahidin of Eastern Indonesia (Mujahidin Indonesia Timur, MIT) in Poso, Central Sulawesi led by Santoso, Indonesia’s most wanted terrorist; and Katibah al-Iman formed by Abu Husna, a former leader of Al-Qaeda’s Southeast Asian offshoot Jemaah Islamiyah.
The attacks in Jakarta on January 14 may serve as a catalyst for rivalries among groups and fuel violence. While the report contends that the attacks were locally organized by Aman Abdurrahman and JAK rather than ordered by Bahrun Naim from Syria as originally thought, it also says that Bahraumsyah had immediately ordered one of his men in Indonesia to do something similar after hearing about the attacks, indicating a deadly one-upmanship among pro-ISIS leaders. Meanwhile, Bahrun Naim continues to try to position himself as the ISIS leader best able to inspire attacks, although his efforts in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore had been thwarted. And at home, while police have arrested several key members of Katibah al-Iman, other local groups like it may exist. This battle for influence among local and foreign groups makes the work of Indonesia’s security forces much tougher.
“Indonesian police have done good work in foiling several other terrorism attempts but this one-upmanship among pro-ISIS leaders has suddenly made their task much tougher,” says IPAC director and longtime terrorist expert Sidney Jones.
The threat from these pro-ISIS groups could rise even further in the coming months, the report warns, which could result in more attacks in more places with more deaths. As it is, IPAC says, trans-border contacts are increasing, with Bahrumsyah transferring funds to both Indonesia and the Philippines and Bahrun Naim’s social media network reaching across borders. Better weapons, greater planning, and more training could also be game-changers for what is termed Indonesia’s “low-tech, low casualty jihadism,” with fighters even coming back from Syria to enhance jihadi skills.
Meanwhile, as the threat metastasizes, the risk is that the Indonesian government under President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo will initially undertake several steps like strengthening anti-terrorism laws and improving deradicalization programs but ultimately become distracted by other priorities.
“The problem is that while attacks like those on 14 January help rivet the attention of senior officials for a few weeks, other priorities inevitably take over and Indonesia slips back into taking for granted that the problem has been solved,” the report said.