Since 2016, pro-Islamic State (IS) groups have committed at least 45 attacks and 42 attack plots in Indonesia. Jamaah Ansharul Khilafah (JAK), previously known as Katibah al Iman or Kataibul Iman, was only implicated in one attack and one plot: a bomb plot led by Abdul Karim aka Abu Jundi in November 2015 that targeted several Shia places in West Java and Riau, and a shooting encounter in July 2018 between three JAK personnel and the police in Yogyakarta that killed the former and injured two officers.
Why has JAK rarely conducted attacks, especially compared to its counterparts such as Jamaah Ansharud Daulah (JAD) and Mujahidin Indonesia Timur (Mujahidin of Eastern Indonesia/MIT)? And what does this imply for the Indonesian security landscape?
JAK’s Distinct Strategy
JAK was established by Abdurrahim alias Abu Husna, a former leader of the education division of the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) terror group in August 2015. JAK, headquartered in Sukoharjo, Central Java, is estimated to have 250-300 members who are based in Central Java, Yogyakarta, the Greater Jakarta area, and South Sumatra. While most of his JI counterparts have been steadfast in their al-Qaida inclinations, Abu Husna was deemed to have “defected” to the Islamic State (IS) when he established JAK.
Pro-IS groups have largely dominated terrorist activities in Indonesia due to their persistent planning or staging of attacks in the country. With the exception of MIT, which was consistent in launching small-scale attacks in its base in Poso, Central Sulawesi even prior to the declaration of the so-called IS caliphate in June 2014, the attack plots staged by other Indonesian pro-IS groups have been largely inspired by IS core’s call for followers to conduct attacks as part of its propaganda. Several Syria-based Indonesian IS fighters ensured that their fellow countrymen adhered to the Islamic State’s instructions, by personally getting involved in funding and directing the attacks through their associates in Indonesia. Furthermore, Aman Abdurrahman, the chief ideologue of the pro-IS community in Indonesia, had urged JAD members to conduct attacks in Indonesia as migrating to Syria to join IS became increasingly more difficult.
Yet, unlike its pro-IS brethren, the JAK believes that waging armed jihad should only be conducted when the group is “ready” and this will require patience. The threshold of readiness for jihad differs between JAK and other pro-IS groups. JAK has set the bar high in terms of readiness to wage jihad based on its reluctance to conduct an attack if the costs outweigh the benefits. For the time being, JAK’s foremost priority is the group’s survival. In its calculations, losing personnel due to arrests prior to or in the aftermath of an attack can potentially lead the group to a premature demise. This implies that JAK is committed to continuously conduct i’dad (preparation for jihad) in the medium to long term until it deems itself “ready” to launch attacks. For example, JAK members are trained in swimming, martial arts, and archery but have refrained from conducting military i’dad that involves firearms and bombs since the arrest of Abu Jundi, the head of JAK’s Sumatra region who learned how to make bombs, in December 2015.
Until they achieve the desired state of jihad readiness, a key element of JAK’s strategy is conducting dakwah (religious outreach) to the public, IS sympathizers, and JAK members, mainly through religious study sessions. JAK charity affiliate Rumah Infaq (literally meaning House of Donation), previously known as Aseer Cruee Center (ACC), organizes some of JAK’s religious study sessions. JAK’s core lecture highlights the importance of seeking religious knowledge through study sessions before committing to armed jihad. In this, JAK’s stance is different from other pro-IS groups. Although they all believe that dakwah and jihad should be conducted concurrently, in practice, the other groups are more committed to wage armed jihad in the immediate term.
JAK’s dakwah front is spearheaded by none other than Abu Husna, who is both the group’s ideologue as well as the ideological leader for some IS sympathizers in Indonesia. Abu Husna has religious credentials that match leading IS ideologue Aman Abdurrahman, who has been sentenced to death and is currently held at an isolated cell in Karanganyar Prison on Nusa Kambangan Island, Central Java. Abu Husna delivers religious lectures mostly in his hometown in Sukoharjo, Central Java, but often travels to other areas, including the Greater Jakarta area, to give sermons to pro-IS supporters from different groups.
JAK’s dakwah front has also reached domestic prisons. It has emerged as the most active pro-IS group conducting recruitment through prison visits, mainly targeting the pool of pro-IS inmates who were not previously affiliated with JAK.
In the Indonesian terrorism landscape, there appears a division of labor among the pro-IS groups who are split into the dakwah and jihad streams. The jihad stream consists of MIT, JAD, and other cells that are currently committed to wage armed jihad in the country. JAK’s heavy focus on enhancing its religious study sessions represents the dakwah stream, which serves as incubators of jihad indoctrination for new militants.
JAK’s focus on dakwah, coupled with physical non-military i’dad, indicates the group’s intention to survive in the medium to long term, given that both its key activities are not punishable under the country’s terrorism law. But it’s an open question as to whether JAK’s administrators and members will remain patient as it continues to raise the level of its readiness for jihad. There is the potential for those who have attended JAK’s lectures to move into the jihad stream if they do not have the patience to wait for the “right time” to wage jihad. Furthermore, JAK’s loose membership structure is a loophole that cannot guarantee JAK’s administrators and members will remain obedient to Abu Husna’s instruction to be patient. It bears noting that Abu Jundi himself had plotted a bomb attack in 2015 despite Abu Husna’s counsel to be “patient” (to wait for the right time) to do so.
For now, however, JAK has secured a soft spot among segments of IS supporters and sympathizers. The absence of another influential pro-IS ideologue of the same caliber as Aman Abdurrahman and the significant decrease in the volume of IS online propaganda has put a spotlight on JAK’s ability to keep the jihad spirit alive via its dakwah sessions. Its role as an ideological incubator is no less important than other groups that carry out militant jihad in the country. Hence, the Indonesian authorities should continue to monitor JAK, even if it does not appear to have militant jihad plans in the immediate future.
V. Arianti is an associate research fellow at the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research (ICPVTR), a constituent unit in the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore.
Muh Taufiqurrohman is a senior researcher at the Centre for Radicalism and Deradicalisation Studies (PAKAR), an NGO based in Indonesia.