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 acknowledged.
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 explosives.
Jakarta/Brussels, 11 December 2002