JAKARTA Jemaah Islamiyah, the Indonesia-based organization responsible for the Bali bombings last October, is alive, if not well. The bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Jakarta on Aug. 5 showed that it could still strike at the heart of a major capital city. The arrest in Thailand a week later of Riduan Isamuddin, better known as Hambali, a key link between Jemaah Islamiyah and Al Qaeda, may have been a major blow, but Jemaah Islamiyah does not depend on a single man.
Jemaah Islamiyah's membership in Indonesia alone probably numbers in the thousands. Several members of its central command are in custody, but many others remain at large, including those with expertise, experience and international contacts that rival Hambali's. The Jemaah Islamiyah network itself is bound together by a complex web of ideology, shared history, educational ties and intermarriage, and is not easily broken up.
More attacks are likely. What can be done to prevent them?
In Indonesia, in particular, the government's reaction to terrorism, as to virtually any problem it faces, is to pass a law, ignoring the fact that the legal system is weak, politicized and corrupt. In the case of terrorism, officials have pushed for amendments to new antiterrorism legislation that would allow for preventive detention. But to many reformists trying to salvage the post-Suharto democratization process, even the thought of preventive detention is anathema.
More to the point, however, preventive detention assumes that the key suspects have been identified and arrested. It doesn't help stop terror at the roots.
Instead, Indonesia needs to take three key steps. The first is for senior leaders, starting with President Megawati Sukarnoputri, to name Jemaah Islamiyah publicly as the organization behind the bombings that have killed hundreds. Officials are willing to condemn terror, violence and crime. But for fear of offending Muslim leaders, for whom the term Jemaah Islamiyah connotes the broader Muslim community, they are unwilling, with few exceptions, to acknowledge publicly the organization's existence. Until they do, they're not going to be able to stop it.
Second, Indonesia's leaders need to look at the organization's support base. Almost every major Jemaah Islamiyah bombing since 2000 has involved graduates of a single pesantren, or Muslim boarding school, in Ngruki, a village near Solo in central Java. The school's head says he has no control on what the students do when they leave. That's disingenuous, just as it is disingenuous for the government to think that it can contain terrorism without a more systematic scrutiny of Jemaah Islamiyah-linked schools.
Pesantrens have a long and honorable tradition in Indonesia, and the vast majority of them produce law-abiding citizens. But a handful are turning out young men committed to a concept of jihad that involves the use of violence against non-Muslim civilians.
President Megawati's government also needs to improve intelligence coordination. This is not just a question of appointing a coordinator, but of making an effort to understand why interagency distrust runs so deep, and what might be done to overcome it. It is also a question of drawing a clear division of labor among the agencies involved.
Instead, Megawati's government has stood by while the military and the police struggle over who controls internal security, of which countering terrorism is a part. The government should make clear that civilians stay in charge, and that there is zero tolerance for failing to share information. Strong leadership here will not only help fight terror, it will also help protect democratic gains.
Finally, the government needs to tackle corruption, and here it has failed miserably. Almost every terror suspect currently in prison has had access to false identification documents, and many have crossed borders with the collusion of corrupt officials. Weapons, ammunition and explosives routinely go missing from military depots. And the escape from a prison in the Philippines of a senior Jemaah Islamiyah leader, Fathur Rahmon al-Ghozi, sends a message to Indonesia that it had better ensure that its own prison officials are immune to bribes.
The Indonesian government has to do more, but the U.S. government needs to help. The single most useful act Washington could undertake at the moment would be to return Hambali to Indonesia for trial. It was precisely the transparency of the Bali arrests and trials that persuaded many Indonesians that they had a homegrown problem. With Hambali in American custody, the pendulum is swinging back now to conspiracy theories about the United States. Washington should send him back to Indonesia, and then urge Indonesia to do its part.
Sidney Jones is South East Asia Project Director at the International Crisis Group.
Copyright © 2003 the International Herald Tribune All Rights Reserved
29 August 2003