Indonesia Backgrounder: How The Jemaah Islamiyah Terrorist Network Operates
As the Indonesian-led investigation proceeds, the Bali
attack on 12 October 2002 looks more and more like the work of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI).
But what exactly is Jemaah Islamiyah and how does it operate? It is one thing
to describe, as many have by now, a network of Islamic radicals extending across Southeast Asia, led
by Indonesian nationals, with a loose structure characterised by four
territorial divisions known as mantiqis that
cover peninsular Malaysia and Singapore; Java; Mindanao, Sabah, and Sulawesi;
and Australia and Papua respectively.
It is another to get a feel for how people are drawn into
the network, what characteristics they share, what motivates them, and what
resources they can draw on.
ICG examined earlier bombings in Indonesia linked
to JI to try to answer some of these questions. There was no shortage of
cases: JI has been linked to dozens of deadly attacks across Indonesia,
the Philippines, and Malaysia from 1999 to the present. ICG looked
in particular, however, at the Christmas
Eve bombings of December 2000, in part because they covered so much territory:
more than 30 bombs were delivered to churches or priests in eleven Indonesian
cities across six provinces, all wired to explode around the same time. If we
could understand who the foot soldiers were from one end of the country to the
other, perhaps we could get a better sense of JI as an organisation.
The report, therefore, takes the Christmas Eve bombings in Medan,
North Sumatra; Bandung and Ciamis, West Java; and Mataram, Lombok,
in Nusa Tenggara Barat Province as a starting point. Using trial documents,
police information, and extensive
interviews, it examines the network linked to JI in each area. Research for
this report was conducted over a two-month period by a team consisting of ICG
staff and consultants.
Several findings emerge:
JI does appear to operate through cells but with a rather
loosely organised and somewhat ad hoc structure. The top strategists appear to
be protégés of Abdullah Sungkar, the co-founder with Abu Bakar Ba’asyir, of
Pondok Ngruki, a pesantren (religious boarding school) in Central Java, mostly Indonesian
nationals living in Malaysia, and veterans of the anti-Soviet resistance or,
more frequently, the post-Soviet period in Afghanistan.
A trusted second tier, who share many of those characteristics, appear to be
assigned as field coordinators, responsible for delivering money and explosives
and for choosing a local subordinate who can effectively act as team leader of
the foot soldiers.
The bottom rung, the people who drive the cars, survey
targets, deliver the bombs, and most often risk arrest, physical injury, or
death, are selected shortly before the attack is scheduled. They are mostly
young men from pesantrens (religious
boarding schools) or Islamic high schools. The schools that provide the
recruits are often led by religious teachers with ties to the Darul Islam
rebellions of the 1950s or to Pondok Ngruki.
Until the Bali attack, the motivation
for bombings appears to have been revenge for massacres of Muslims by
Christians in Indonesia –Maluku, North Maluku, and Poso (Central Sulawesi)
where communal conflict erupted in 1999 and 2000. With a
few exceptions, such as the attack on the residence of the Philippine
ambassador in Jakarta in August
2000, the targets were mostly churches and priests. Recruitment of foot
soldiers was often preceded by discussions about Maluku and Poso or the showing
of videos about the killings taking place there. Those conflicts not only
served to give concrete meaning to the concept of jihad, a key element
of JI’s ideology, but also provided easily
accessible places where recruits could gain practical combat experience.
The U.S.-led war on terror now appears to have replaced
Maluku and Poso as the main object of JI’s wrath, especially as those conflicts
have waned, and the targeting in Bali of Westerners, rather than Indonesian
Christians, may be indicative of that shift.
Abu Bakar Ba’asyir, now under arrest in a police hospital in
Jakarta, is the formal head of Jemaah Islamiyah, but a deep rift has
emerged between him and the JI leadership in Malaysia,
who find him insufficiently radical. Ba’asyir undoubtedly knows far more than
he has been willing to divulge about JI operations, but he is unlikely to have
been the mastermind of JI attacks.
A curious link appears in the Medan Christmas Eve bombing
between the Acehnese close to JI and Indonesian military intelligence, because
both are bitterly opposed to the Acehnese rebel movement, Gerakan Aceh Merdeka
or GAM. This link needs to be explored more fully: it does not necessarily mean
that military intelligence was working with JI, but it does raise a question about
the extent to which it knew or could have found out more about JI than it has
This is a background report, containing more in the nature
of conclusions than familiar ICG recommendations. But there are three courses
of action which the Indonesian government authorities should, in the light of
our findings, certainly now pursue:
Reopen investigations into earlier bombings, with
international assistance if possible, as to an extent is being done, but as a
top priority and with a new investigation strategy involving systematic pooling
of all information from across the country and review of cases where
"confessions" were alleged to have been extracted under torture.
Address corruption more seriously in the police, army, and
immigration service, with particular attention to the trade in arms and
Jakarta/Brussels, 11 December 2002