After Bali II: Fighting JI

Dr Rohan Gunaratna is the Head of Terrorism Research, Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies, Singapore, and the author of Inside Al Qaeda: Global Network of Terror (Columbia University Press, New York)

By Dr Rohan Gunaratna

For a second time in three years, Jemaah Islamiyah’s suicide bombers once against struck Bali, Indonesia’s most popular tourist destination on Saturday night. Within the regional law enforcement and intelligent community, the months August to December is identified as the bombing season. There was no specific intelligence that Bali was going to be attacked. There was an abundance of strategic intelligence that a western target in Indonesia will be struck. Ideally, the Indonesian police and the intelligence community should have used this knowledge to develop ground or contact intelligence to prevent Bali II.

The attack on Saturday signaled Indonesia’s lack of understanding of the threat and government inability to develop a comprehensive strategy to fight a growing jihad movement in the country. It also demonstrated Indonesia’s continuing lack of counter terrorism leadership and an inability to invest in developing appropriate legislation, training and intelligence.

Three years after the Indonesian government started to fight JI, the group still remains a credible threat. Until the deadly attack on October 2002, Jakarta denied the existence of JI on its soil. Despite an attack every year since Bali I, Indonesian government strategy to combat JI is flawed. Unless Jakarta recognizes the need for immediate action and far reaching measures, the country is likely to suffer further from terrorism.

Review of CT policy and strategy:
To reduce the threat to Indonesia and to the region, government must consider the following three issues.

First, JI is still a legal organization in Indonesia. It is not an offense in Indonesia for any one to be a member of JI. It is legitimate for an Indonesian or a foreigner to disseminate propaganda, recruit, raise funds, procure supplies and engage in other support functions of JI. If Indonesia is serious in fighting terrorism, it must proscribe JI as a terrorist group and dismantle both its support and operational infrastructure. For instance, the Majlis Mujahidin Indonesia (MMI: The Mujahidin Council of Indonesia) also led by Abu Bakar Bashir is generating significant recruits, funds and other forms of support for JI. Without building a robust counter terrorism legislative framework, many JI leaders and members including its supremo Abu Bakar Bashir will go free in the coming months.

Second, the Indonesian intelligence and police gravely lack a specialist counter terrorism structure. The Indonesian police is primarily using its Criminal Investigations Division to fight terrorism. Government must create an organization dedicated to fight both terrorism and extremism. Although there have been significant arrests, there are over 400 Afghan and Moro trained JI members still free in Indonesia. As long as the masterminds of the attack, Dr Azahari Hussein and Noordin Mohommed Top are still free, it is likely that JI will mount another attack in the immediate future.

Third, the threat of Jihadism is spreading in Indonesia. Although less than 1% of the Indonesians actively support terrorism, it is a threat that is growing everyday. As groups that engage in political violence do not require large scale support, there is sufficient support in Indonesia for the sustenance of a successful terrorist campaign in the foreseeable future. As JI is actively recruiting from other Jihad groups, it will be a mistake for the government only to focus on JI. Rather than treating the terrorist threat as a pure JI problem, it necessary for government to increase its intelligence coverage of like minded groups. For instance, the Australian Embassy bomber Heri Golun was a member of Negara Islam Indonesia, West Java. Furthermore, JI is penetrating mainstream and Islamic political parties. To counter a regional trend in favour of Islamic militancy, government must work with religious and education leaders. A norm and an ethic must be built in society against groups that advocate violence to achieve a political goal. JI and like minded groups must be projected as non-Koranic groups.

Australian Response:
After Bali I, Australia developed an off shore counter terrorism policy. A key component of that policy has included sustained support to build a robust counter terrorism capability in Indonesia. The bulk of this assistance has been used to train Indonesian police at a tactical and an operational level. Through the Jakarta Centre for Law Enforcement Cooperation in Semarang, both the Australian Federal Police and the Indonesian police has trained several thousand police officers, intelligence personnel, and other Indonesians to fight terrorism.

Instead of only building a tactical capability, Australia must seek to build a strategic capability in Indonesia to fight terrorism. Australian political leaders and officials must work even closely with their counterparts in Jakarta to legally criminalize JI. By building such a strategic counter terrorism capability in Indonesia, the police and the intelligence community in Indonesia will be able to perform more effectively. Indonesian designation or proscription of JI as a terrorist or an illegal group will strengthen the hand of government organizations tasked to dismantle and destroy JI and its associated groups.

The Future of JI:
Despite key losses, JI intention and capability to strike Western targets in Indonesia and overseas remains intact. It is because, Indonesia is targeting only JI members that have conducted violence or are about to engage in violence. The strategy for neutralizing a terrorist group is to target both its military and non military structures. In many ways, the real fight against JI has not yet begun in Indonesia.

JI itself has morphed to survive. More than ever before, JI is working today with likeminded groups. JI and JI associated groups maintains a robust presence in three conflict zones: Mindanao in the Philippines and, Maluku and Poso in Indonesia. Indonesia’s fight against JI organization is yet to begin seriously. Unless the Indonesian leadership invests significantly in developing a comprehensive and a robust counter terrorism agenda, JI will survive and strike back. Another attack is likely to humiliate the government and embarrass the Indonesian President even more.

Dr Rohan Gunaratna is the Head of Terrorism Research, Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies, Singapore, and the author of Inside Al Qaeda: Global Network of Terror (Columbia University Press, New York).