Extremist ideology is spreading among families as a new wave of female and child jihadists emerges
The ability to carry out a series of attacks in a shorter period of time — with better explosives and a higher number of casualties — indicates that terrorist groups in Indonesia are becoming ruthlessly efficient and potentially more dangerous.
They have changed their strategy of attack and, what is more frightening still, have shown how the so-called Islamic State (IS) group is flourishing and wielding its influence to make Indonesia its hotbed.
In fact, Islamic State has become increasingly vocal in claiming responsibility for a wave of recent attacks, beginning with deadly riots at a police detention facility in Depok, West Java on May 9.
The group also claimed a number of successful attacks on churches and a police station in Surabaya, the capital of East Java province, and in Sumatra’s Riau.
Those attacks led to the deaths of 12 civilians and seven police officers.Top of FormBottom of Form
In their wake, police have arrested at least 74 terrorist suspects in various locations in Java and Sumatra.
They come from different groups. Some are related to previous extremist groups while others are new players. What they have in common is the proven ability to develop new ways of carrying out their mission.
The recent attacks in East Java by members of two families are evidence enough that the terrorists have changed their strategy, which was previously male dominated but now includes women (mothers) and children.
Of the 13 attackers killed, five were children aged 9 to 17.
Analysts say the involvement of children in these and possibly future attacks indicates how the masterminds have shifted their recruitment tactics from peer indoctrination to “brainwashing” at the nuclear family level.
In several schools where government control is sadly lacking, children are taught to practice some of the basics of radicalism such as developing a sense of hatred for government figures and law enforcers while disavowing the prevailing ideology of the state.
According to experts, the inclusion of female jihadists in suicide bombings — including those, in some incidents, who planned to stab police officers — also highlights this broad shift.
The involvement of women is not entirely new, however. IS operations in Syria and the Boko Haram group in Nigeria have used female combatants to achieve their goals.
Several IS propaganda videos depict women joining various forms of training such as fighting, shooting, archery and showcasing other skills required in the field.
Observers maintain that one of the chief advantages of using female jihadists to carry out attacks is that they can garner more media attention when they are caught or killed. Also, they say it is easier for female combatants to pass security checks in targeted locations.
Such examples confirm that terrorism is no longer only the domain of male jihadists, which is something the Indonesian government and law enforcement agencies should be concerned about if they hope to anticipate future attacks by women.
Back to the bad old days?
The recent attacks targeting churches in East Java are reminiscent of what transpired over a decade ago when terrorist bombings began to be keenly felt in the country.
Again, the main targets were places of religious significance or symbols of Western influence.
The emergence of terrorism in Indonesia in the early 2000s is simultaneous with the sectarian conflicts in Ambon and Poso in Central Sulawesi. Terrorists tried to get support from Muslims at that time by attacking a number of churches throughout the country.
In the succeeding years the attacks fanned out, with some allegedly being staged in retaliation for the persecution of Muslims.
In one of the highest-profile cases, nightclubs and other symbols of Western culture on the tourist island of Bali came under attack, as did the Philippine Embassy in Jakarta, followed by the
JW Marriott hotel and the Australian Embassy in 2005.
Experts claim that at least some of these bombings were meted out in response to what was perceived as the unfair treatment of Abu Sayyaf fighters in Mindanao.
The terrorists only began strategically targeting police from 2010.
But while pundits contend that security personnel remain the main target of attackers, this new (old) pattern of striking places of worships and anything associated with Western culture suggests they are now adopting a two-pronged approach.
Bahrun Naim, an Indonesian who worked his way up into the echelons of power within IS leadership, instructed his followers earlier to divide up into small cells to avoid detection by police and intelligence officials.
According to Noor Huda Islamail, a terrorism expert, these small cells continue to multiply and produce new jihadists.
What is surprising, however, is that many of them have no links with previous or bigger terrorists groups or networks.
He said anyone can launch an attack without being trained in an IS camp, unlike in earlier times when recruits had to ally themselves with groups such as Jamaah Islamiyah before they were authorized to carry out attacks.
Now the process of joining a terrorist cell appears to have become considerably easier. All it takes is a bit of radical ideology, which can be delivered anywhere, even through social media, to convince them to strike.
In the hands of local leaders
Cahyo Pamungkas, a researcher at the Indonesian Science Institute, said extremist ideology is growing among families because it is being transferred from people who are either directly or indirectly linked with terrorists.
But he said Indonesian society is not tolerant enough of other religions and ideologies, which is making more families succumb to radicalism and extremism.
He suggested that ridding society of this religious intolerance would be a stronger foundation for a more harmonious society, rather than one that has become a fertile ground for breeding terrorists.
President Joko Widodo has on many occasions emphasized the importance of adopting both a soft and hard approach in eradicating terrorism.
The latter approach, which hinges on stricter law enforcement, has shown itself to be inadequate in conquering the spread of both terrorism and radicalism. To be more effective it must be balanced with a soft approach, such as involving former terrorists in the process of de-radicalization.
Many former terrorists who have served time for their crimes have subsequently gone on to help the government battle intolerance and radicalism, under police supervision.
In some cases, regular millennials have been drafted in to serve as ambassadors of peace by the nation’s counter terrorism agency (BNPT).
As the recent attacks indicate an “awakening” of splinter groups like Jamaah Ansharud Daulah and Jamaah Ansharut Tauhid, which have both pledged allegiance to IS, the government needs to boost its efforts to curtail the growth of such groups.
Society and religious organizations must be encouraged to openly condemn and speak out against any Islamic group that promotes extremism or hatred, and prohibit them from associating with certain religious groups.
Some critics contend that the Justice Prosperous Party (PKS) is home to many radical groups, and its officials rarely condemn the actions of extremist organizations such as the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI)
However, families must be shielded from the influence of extremists, either through social media or personal indoctrination. The Information Ministry has already blocked some radical content online but more needs to be done.
The National Anti-Terrorism Agency (BNPT) recently signed an agreement with the Ministry of Domestic Affairs to create a support system for families, convicted terrorists and former terrorists.
As of now more than 600 former terrorists have been freed and returned to their respective districts, mostly in Java. At least three are known to have re-joined terrorists groups, according to police. They were arrested last year.
Some continue to carry out attacks despite having undergone de-radicalization programs.
One of the roles of local governments, even at the lowest level, is to monitor the activities of ex-cons who are known to have either carried out attacks before or affiliated with terrorists so they do not return their former ways or ideology.
Their movements need to be restricted so that other families do not stray down the wrong path.
Commentary by Siktus Harson was published in UCA News on 31 March, 2018