After the Astana Anyar Bombing: A Critical Overview of Indonesia’s CVE System

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After the Astana Anyar Bombing: A Critical Overview of Indonesia’s CVE System

Indonesia’s post-arrest countering violent extremism programs are intended to help prevent recidivism. What are the system’s current shortcomings?

After the Astana Anyar Bombing: A Critical Overview of Indonesia’s CVE System

Police officers secure a road leading to a police station where a bomb exploded in Bandung, West Java, Indonesia, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2022.

Credit: AP Photo/Kholid Parmawinata

On December 7, a suicide bomb detonated in the Astana Anyar Police Headquarters in Bandung, West Java. Initial police investigations uncovered the perpetrator to be a member of the Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD), marking this the organization’s first terror attack following the Makassar Bombing in 2021. 

The attack itself was relatively thought-out: The perpetrator targeted the police headquarters’ morning gathering to maximize casualties, prepared for redundancy by bringing multiple explosives and sharp weapons, and left a note on his vehicle criticizing the new amendment of Indonesia’s Criminal Code to mainstream his message. Despite these preparations, however, the attack only resulted in half the casualties of the the 2021 Makassar Bombing — affirming an ongoing trend of weakening capacity among Indonesian terrorists in the past five years.

The most important aspect of the Astana Anyar bombing, however, is not how it was conducted but who conducted it: a recidivist named Agus Sujatna. Agus was well integrated in JAD’s network. A Stratsea report noted that he began radicalizing in 2015 at a JAD-affiliated madrassah, regularly took part in JAD gatherings, and was appointed as JAD South Bandung’s treasurer. In 2017, Agus was arrested for participating in the Cicendo Bombing plot and was sentenced to four years in the high-security Pasir Putih Prison. 

While authorities announced that Agus did participate in deradicalization initiatives during his sentence, accounts from civil society organizations claimed that Agus actually refused to take part. Whichever was correct, it was apparent that these programs were not successful in assisting his deradicalization. When Agus was released in March 2021, he was still categorized as uncooperative and quickly returned to the pro-Islamic State (IS) network by working as a parking attendant in a pro-IS school.

This article provides a critical overview of the system that was meant to prevent recidivism cases like Agus: Indonesia’s post-arrest countering violent extremism (CVE) programs. Despite its notable development, the efficacy of these CVE programs are still hamstrung by three systemic problems: the programs’ voluntary-based participant selection model, inaccurate metrics to administer out-of-prison aftercare, and the lack of formal coordination between CVE-focused stakeholders. 

Importantly, however, this article does not intend to overdramatize the problem of recidivism. Although Agus is not the first ex-terrorist convict to conduct an attack, he is still still an outlier. Studies from organizations such as the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC) and the Center for Detention Studies (CDS) reported Indonesia’s recidivism rate to be between 5 and 11 percent, similar to other countries’ average of 2 to 15 percent. That said, more still needs to be done to ensure outlying occurrences like Agus’ attack are further reduced.

After the Arrest

Before highlighting its shortcomings, it is important to first detail the system that processes terrorist inmates post-arrest. After a terrorist suspect is convicted, they are transferred to prisons depending on their security risk. Those with the highest risk are transferred to super-max facilities in Nusakambangan and Bogor, and the rest are distributed in areas that ease family visits. Data from 2017 showed that terrorist inmate distribution is highly centralized in Banten, Central Java, and West Java, which hold 73.4 percent of all terrorist inmates in Indonesia. 

Upon their arrival, facilities are then given the inmate’s medical resume, the trial minutes, and, most importantly, a profile assessment from Special Detachment 88 (Densus 88) which labels the severity of their radicalism. While facilities could ideally use these documents to assess how best to monitor and approach the inmate, in practice, these assessment documents often lack rich detail and thus prison facilities often opt to simply use their own risk-assessment tools.

Once in prison, the inmate is able to participate in various deradicalization programs. In general, these initiatives are implemented by three main actors. First, are state institutions such as the National Counter Terrorism Agency (BNPT) and Densus 88. While both institutions have their individual approaches, they commonly focus on challenging an inmate’s radical ideologies through theological seminars and iterative dialogues — some of which are led by other former terrorist inmates

A second set of actors that implement in-prison deradicalization programs are civil society organizations. This includes organizations like Search for Common Ground (SfCG), which have focused on building common denominators with terrorist inmates through teaching them necessary life skills, or the Niru Nabi Foundation, which opens moderating dialogues with inmates through Quranic reading sessions.

A third set of actors are the prison facilities themselves. One example is the prison in Porong, which has built meaningful moderating dialogues with terrorist inmates through providing economic empowerment programs.

After serving two-thirds of their sentence, a system automatically registers an inmate’s eligibility for parole. The parole board then begins preparing the inmate’s dossier — part of which is approval from the BNPT and Densus 88 — and sends it for review to a provincial-level observer team and, if approved, the Directorate General of Corrections (DGC). If the DGC approves, a Densus officer will escort parolees back to their community, making sure to visit the nearest citizen association, local police station, and parole office. 

For the rest of their parole, ex-inmates are obliged to report to parole officers every two to three months and are free to participate in the various CVE programs that are offered to them. Unfortunately, most terrorist inmates who fully served their sentences do not get this treatment or attention. While Densus officials do escort high-risk inmates and advise local police officers to monitor them, this occurs on an ad hoc basis. Most inmates who are released after serving their full sentence rely on family, friends, or civil society organizations (CSOs) to go back home.

Bugs in the System

If implemented correctly, this system should be able to identify and provide rehabilitation to terrorist inmates who most need it: high-risk terrorist inmates would be identified in the initial assessment. They would be the focus and subject to various CVE programs, and be given out-of-prison aftercare when they are released. Unfortunately, three systemic problems prevent the system from operating effectively.

The first problem is the lack of a mandatory deradicalization and disengagement program for inmates in and out of prison. Notably, almost all CVE programs, be it those carried out by state-led bodies or CSOs, are voluntary — if a terrorist inmate does not want to participate in any programs, then they will not. As the coordinator for BNPT’s Law Enforcement Evaluation and Analysis Team stated, deradicalization programs are not a requirement, they are “an offer for [inmates] to take.” 

Even in high-security prison like Pasir Putih, prison authorities often wait for convicts themselves to open up and initiate change before they engage with and involve them in deradicalization programs. While participant consent and buy-in is vital to ensure costly CVE programs result in meaningful change, CVE program’s voluntary-based participant selection has resulted in a system that actively excludes those who most need it — high-risk inmates who would refuse such programs if given the chance

The second problem within Indonesia’s CVE system is its faulty metric for administering mandatory out-of-prison aftercare. As of now, mandatory out-of-prison aftercare of a terrorist inmate is based on whether the individual is released on parole or not. As noted above, when a terrorist inmate is released on parole, they are escorted back home by officials, are introduced to relevant authorities and community bodies, and are subjected to regular check ups from state institutions. While more can indeed be done, these small gestures go a long way to ease reintegration and maintain continuity of the inmate’s interaction with individuals outside of radical networks. 

Unfortunately, there is no legal obligation for any state institution to provide out-of-prison aftercare to an inmate that has served their full sentence — even when they have not participated in any in-prison CVE programs and have not shown any signs of ideological and or behavioral change. While Densus does escort high-risk inmates and advise local police officers to periodically check up on them, without any regulation obligating them to do so, police officers who are already burdened with other priorities rarely do so. As a result, inmates who are most uncooperative, and thus least likely to receive parole, are those that receive least amount of out-of-prison care. 

A third problem is the lack of formal coordination between CVE-focused stakeholders, be it between state and non-state actors and between non-state actors themselves. As a result, information on crucial subjects such as what CVE programs have been done by other stakeholders, which terrorist inmates have been subjected to CVE programs, and whether the inmate experienced ideological and behavioral change as a result of those programs, are fragmented across various stakeholders. Because of this fragmentation, CSOs that would have been able to complement state bodies in providing crucial out-of-prison care for ex-inmates who most need it are unable to systematically do so.

While the newly issued National Action Plan on Preventing Extremism (RAN PE) does plan to create such a coordination forum, no change has occurred on the ground. In practice, state and non-state CVE stakeholders still coordinate and exchange information on a case-by-case basis –– relying on personal relations their members have built throughout the years to facilitate it. Indeed, there have been great initiatives by CSOs such as Yayasan Prasasti Perdamaian to create local coordination working groups (Pokja) for terrorist inmate reintegration, but they are unfortunately only active in several cities in Java.

What’s Next

When taken together, these problems create holes in the system that have allowed high-risk inmates like Agus to recidivate. Because CVE programs are voluntary, inmates like Agus are able to refuse participation in deradicalization initiatives and serve a full sentence. Consequently, because state institutions are only obligated to provide out-of-prison aftercare to parolees, inmates like Agus who have served their full sentence are left to their own devices after prison. And because there is a lack of formal coordination between CVE stakeholders, CSOs who could have provided inmates like Agus important out-of-prison aftercare do not do so due to a lack of information.

So, what’s next? First, it is important for Indonesia to provide mandatory deradicalization and disengagement programs. Learning from SfCG’s experience, a mandatory program could work if it focuses not on directly challenging ideology, but building commonalities that would induce inmates to voluntarily participate in other CVE programs. Second, it is important for out-of-prison care to be administered to all terrorist inmates, regardless of their parole status, and given more emphasis to those who are least rehabilitated. Third, it is vital for Indonesia to actually create a functioning coordination body as stipulated in the RAN PE to ensure that collaboration between state and non-state stakeholders are not done on the behest of personal relations.