Indonesia’s increasingly aggressive counterterrorism operations in Sulawesi have yielded significant results in the past two years. In early 2021, Special Detachment 88 (Densus 88) arrested over 60 members of the Anshor Daulah Villa Mutiara, one of Indonesia’s most active pro-Islamic State (IS) cells. In the recent past its members were responsible for the 2021 Makassar Bombing, and it is affiliated with the 2019 Jolo Cathedral Bombing perpetrators. Not long after, in 2022, Densus 88 shot the last known member of the Mujahideen of East Indonesia (MIT), dismantling a terrorist organization that has resiliently operated on the island for over a decade.
That said, the threat of terrorism in Sulawesi remains. Even as counterterrorism efforts become increasingly intensive, the island continues to attract terrorists from various parts of Indonesia. After the mass arrest of the Anshor Daulah Villa Mutiara members in early 2021, for example, Densus 88 arrested over 50 suspected terrorists in various parts of Sulawesi. Unsurprisingly, most of these arrested suspects were pro-IS supporters. In May 2022, for instance, Densus 88 arrested over 22 pro-IS supporters in Poso and Ampana, Central Sulawesi, who had prepared firearms and sharp weapons in an attempt to join the MIT.
More concerningly, however, was the fact that not a small portion of these arrests were members of the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI). Out of all the arrests in Sulawesi between August 2021 and April 2023, one in three were JI members. This included eight who were arrested in South and Central Sulawesi on August 2021, two who were arrested in Luwu Timur, South Sulawesi in November 2021, and another five who were recently arrested in Palu and Sigi, Central Sulawesi in March 2023. Investigations into these three clusters found that JI has developed various organizational infrastructures on the island, ranging from fundraising, firearms smuggling, and dakwah (preaching).
Further examination, however, shows that JI’s presence and infrastructures on the island is larger than what was uncovered during these arrests. Referencing court documents of other arrested JI members, it appears that Sulawesi today still plays an important role for JI as it serves as a venue of some of their key fundraising, membership training, and dakwah.
JI’s History in Sulawesi
JI has a long history in Sulawesi. The organization first established a presence on the island in 1997 when they included it in their Mantiqi (district command) III to facilitate members’ travel to Mindanao. However, JI’s operational involvement in Sulawesi began in the early 2000s when members participated in the Poso conflict to conduct “defensive jihad.” By 2001, JI had established a good network with Poso community leaders to coordinate for logistics and established several core programs. These included a military training program led by senior Afghan alumni for local mujahideen in Poso and Palu, and a dakwah program named the Uhud Project led by the head of Mantiqi III designed to garner popular support.
While JI’s arrival in Sulawesi began with the Poso conflict, its aspirations go beyond it. For its seniors, Sulawesi became a prime location for the establishment of a qoidah aminah (secure base): a territory where JI could secure control over governance, attain support from its population, and launch jihad against the Indonesian government. Not only were the areas in Sulawesi geographically defensible, but JI members and supporters at the time also dominated the area’s community leadership due to their participation in the conflict. Additionally, the Poso issue became an important unifying cause between internal JI factions who were, at the time, in dispute over various issues.
By 2004, JI had expanded its infrastructure across Central Sulawesi. It established three formal wakalah (sub-district commands) – namely Wakalah Uhud in Palu, Wakalah Khaibar in Poso, and Wakalah Tabuk in Pendolo – each comprising between 50 to 70 people. It also developed specific administrative, dakwah, fundraising, and military training programs, each with a detailed list of targets, methods, and timeline. Interestingly, compared to its other programs, JI’s dakwah initiatives were the most detailed. It included instructions on how to manage its recruitment systems, survey the most “suitable outreach areas,” and identify local mosques that could become the starting point for outreach.
JI’s focus on dakwah, however, did not stop members from conducting attacks. Starting in 2005, JI members conducted multiple attacks in Sulawesi, which ranged from bombings, such as the Tentena Bombing in May 2005, to targeted assassinations, such as the beheading of three Christian schoolgirls in October 2005. It was the resulting public backlash from these attacks, particularly the beheadings, that prompted the government to conduct Operation Tanah Runtuh – a joint police-military raid that led to the death and capture of 77 JI members. In its aftermath, JI leadership ordered its remaining members to leave the island and focus on conducting dakwah.
JI’s Rebuilding in Sulawesi
Court documents have revealed that even after 2007, JI continued to invest and build infrastructures in Sulawesi. Of all these, three programs are particularly crucial to JI’s overall rebuilding strategy.
The first concerns the Agrowisata (agrotourism) program. This is a fundraising program that began in 2011 and involved JI sending five members to develop a cloves and cacao plantation in Kolaka Utara, Southeast Sulawesi. To facilitate their travel, JI provided them counterfeit identities, ensuring they can operate safely among the local population. Over time, the Kolaka Utara plantation became one of JI’s primary productive assets, alongside similar operations in East Java and Central Java. This generated a fixed revenue stream for JI to pay senior members and support other initiatives, such as the Matlubin Program that facilitated the relocation of senior officials like Zulkarnaen until his 2021 arrest.
In addition to being a source of revenue, the Kolaka Utara plantation also became an area where JI experimented with an early design of their military training program, also codenamed “Agrowisata.” This program was a three-month long course led by JI’s Moro alumni, which covered a range of topics from field engineering and map reading to self-defense, battle tactics, and weapons training. However, as a report by the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC) noted, the program was sidelined after two batches as evaluators perceived that the general security concerns and lack of weapons in Sulawesi prevented participants from getting enough “practice.”
A second program JI implemented in Sulawesi is the ADIRA (Education and Caderization Academy) program. This program is essentially a school that aims to train recruits and assign them to suitable units within JI’s organizational structure – two tasks crucial for instilling discipline and maximizing the value of new members. The ADIRA program was originally focused on Jakarta and West Java but later expanded to other regions. Seven satellite schools were built to focus on multiple areas including North Sumatra, Lampung, Central Java, Bali, East Nusa Tenggara, and West Nusa Tenggara. The Sulawesi unit, the latest addition, was created in late 2014, and then-JI leader Para Wijayanto closely monitored it until 2017.
In order to effectively assign recruits, ADIRA schools developed three distinct curricula. The first is the regular curriculum, which is a two-year program designed for general recruits under 40 years old. The second is the regular plus, which is a one-year program designed for recruits from JI affiliated madrassahs who are more “prepared.” The third is the extension curriculum, a condensed six-month program reserved for individuals with specific skills that other JI units are in need of. To avoid detection, ADIRA schools commonly operate under legally certified nature associations (Lembaga Pecinta Alam) such as Cakrawana in Tasikmalaya and Nusawana in Lampung, ensuring the covert nature of these long-term training programs.
A third program JI implemented in Sulawesi is its dakwah and recruitment initiative. Most of JI’s dakwah initiatives in Sulawesi target local communities and are commonly done through religious sermons in mosques and Quranic recital groups. Between 2016 and 2022, JI has conducted dakwah in several areas including Wajo in South Sulawesi and Morowali, Poso, and Palu in Central Sulawesi. Often, these dakwah initiatives are rotated around mosques of different villages to cast a wider net of potential recruits while simultaneously testing which participants are dedicated enough to follow them. Like JI’s recruitment processes elsewhere, potential members in Sulawesi take one to two years before they are formally invited to pledge loyalty to the group.
Additionally, JI also had plans to conduct dakwah and recruit members from Sulawesi’s Indigenous elites. This plan was developed by Achmad Fauzan, a JI member in Solo, who wanted to use his status as a descendant of the Tallo Sultanate in Gowa, South Sulawesi to preach to other Sultanate members. In 2016, Para Wijayanto approved the plan and Achmad was able to participate in a cultural ceremony in Makassar which appointed him as a crown prince of the Tallo Sultanate. Following his appointment, Achmad created the Council of Indigenous Custodians of the Archipelago (MAPAN) to act as his dakwah vehicle. However, Achmad was arrested in 2019 and the organization is no longer operational as of now.
The Future of Counterterrorism in Sulawesi
The discovery of JI organizational infrastructure in Sulawesi indicates that counterterrorism efforts on the island are still very important in the near future. However, unlike counterterrorism operations against MIT and pro-Islamic State supporters, a more sensitive approach is needed to dismantle JI infrastructures in Sulawesi, rather than outright kinetic operations. Different from MIT members, who aimed to avoid arrest by secluding themselves in the forests, JI aims to avoid arrest by integrating themselves into society – either by developing counterfeit identities to safely operate plantations, legally certifying their associations to conduct training, or using local mosques and community affiliations to carry out dakwah initiatives.
Using excessive force when apprehending JI members who are viewed as well-adjusted community members can risk increasing local distrust and backlash to future counterterrorism and countering violent extremism (CVE) efforts. Similar incidents have occurred before. In 2016, for example, hundreds of Solo residents demanded Densus 88’s dissolution due to the death of Siyono during a counterterrorism operation – despite him being a member of JI in Klaten.
To minimize such a backlash, counterterrorism operations against JI in Sulawesi should minimize the military’s involvement, limit the use of lethal force during arrest, and demonstrate a willingness to transparently take responsibility for any casualties. This is particularly important in the context of Sulawesi, an island where many local communities endured traumatic experiences involving security officials during the Poso conflict in the early 2000s.