In tactical shift, Jemaah Islamiyah militants infiltrate mainstream Islamic groups, politics

Abu Bakar Ba’asyir, the spiritual leader of Jemaah Islamiyah, was released from prison in January after serving time on terror-related charges. - The Jakarta Post

JAKARTA (The Jakarta Post/Asia News Network): The nation’s counterterrorism agency has warned that Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) militants continue to sow the seeds of radicalism as the group infiltrates mainstream religious organisations, government institutions and national politics as a new tactic toward achieving its ideological goals.

Ahmad Nurwakhid, deputy for prevention at the National Counter-Terrorism Agency (BNPT) said JI members were able to infiltrate government institutions and mainstream Islamic groups because of their remarkable ability to blend in.

“It’s possible they [have tried to infiltrate] other religious organisations, even NGOs and biking groups,” Nurwakhid told The Jakarta Post on Saturday.

“This is part of their strategy change since Para Wijayanto took over the leadership. They used to focus on combatants, but now they have shifted to dakwah [religious propagation] and politics,” he said.

JI was nearly dismantled by authorities after staging a bombing attack in 2002 that ripped through nightclubs on the holiday island of Bali, killing more than 200 people including scores of tourists in what remains the country’s deadliest terror attack.

But the organisation — whose spiritual leader, Abu Bakar Ba'asyir, was released from prison this year after serving time on terror-related charges — has been rebuilding and is believed to have changed its strategy.

Last week the police arrested three people suspected of involvement with the group, which is affiliated to al-Qaeda.

Among the three arrested last Tuesday was Ahmad Zain An-Naja, a top official at the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI), the nation’s powerful semi-official board of Muslim scholars. Ahmad Zain sat on its fatwa commission.

The others arrested were Ahmad Farid Okbah, chairman of the little-known Indonesian People’s Calling Party, and Anung Al-Hamat, a university lecturer.

“Zain and Farid were members of JI’s advisory council,” Nurwakhid said.

“Farid Okbah has spent time in Afghanistan at the behest of Abu Bakar Bashir.” Zain, a graduate of the Bashir-founded Al-Mukmin Islamic boarding school in Surakarta, Central Java, served as chairman of the sharia board of the Abdurrahman Bin Auf (BM ABA) charitable foundation which, according to police, raised funds for JI.

The arrest of such a senior figure within the MUI – a quasi-state body that receives state funding and controls the country’s halal-certification scheme – raises questions over the extent to which JI may have infiltrated mainstream Muslim groups.

Nurwakhid said that the move was part of its long-term strategy to achieve the end goal of establishing an islamic state.

"This is part of the JI tactic called tamkin [infiltration] and taqiyah [the denial of one’s belief, which is permissible in the face of persecution], so that when they are strong they can change the organisation they entered properly," Nurwakhid said.

Ulil Abshar Abdalla, NU Muslim scholar, said that JI would have a huge interest in asserting its influence among mainstream Muslims through the MUI.

“The MUI is an open market for Muslims. Anyone who gets a recommendation from their organisation can join,” Ulil said.

“They could have leverage in influencing opinion among the Muslim community in Indonesia if they were able to alter the trajectory of the MUI.”

MUI chairman Muhammad Cholil Nafis said that Ahmad Zain had been suspended, and that his alleged ties with terror networks were his “personal affair” and not connected to his role in the organisation.

“We support law enforcement and the eradication of terrorism in Indonesia. The MUI has issued a regulation against terrorism and formed a mitigation group. The person arrested has been deactivated from the fatwa commission,” he told a press conference on Wednesday.

The organisation’s Executive Board of the Counter-Extremism and Terrorism Agency (BET) has said that it will conduct profiling of its prospective members in response to the arrest.

Analysts have pointed out that under Para’s leadership, JI has shown an interest in gaining political clout within society. Former JI operative Arif Budi Setyawan, who has since written a book that warns of the dangers of radicalisation, said that JI had been considering achieving victory by participating in democratic activities.

“Farid is a very interesting phenomenon. His establishing of a party, which is alleged to be a place for JI members to disseminate their ideas among the public, seems to be a safe option,” Arif told the Post.

Reports released by the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict revealed that JI members were initially forbidden to take part in elections because democracy as a system was a violation of the faith, but in the end, even that ban was relaxed.

Under Para’s leadership, JI members joined mass rallies against then-Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama over remarks on the Quran that were deemed blasphemous by hardline Muslims.

Those rallies played a role in Ahok’s arrest, re-election defeat and conviction, a sequence of events that seemed to cement the growing political clout of hardline religious groups in the world’s largest Muslim-majority country.

A senior researcher from the Center for the Study of Radicalism and Deradicalization (PAKAR), Moh. Adhe Bakti, noted that despite their change of attitudes in politics, they only see it as a means to achieving their goal.

“JI members do not believe in democracy even if they take part in democratic activities,” Adhe said.

“When they talk about violence, they always say ‘not here, not now’. But they still maintain their violent ability,” Adhe said.

They are preparing for a future military confrontation when needed, Adhe added.

“They sent aid to Syria and Afghanistan and sent people there to build water facilities, but also sent their members to take part in military training there, under the pretext of charity,” Adhe said.

Adhe said that factions within the group could resort to violence as recent arrests could be seen as the authorities’ attempt to dismantle JI’s leadership successor.

“The danger of JI is not when the leadership is solid, rather when there is no leadership. That’s when it reaches a vulnerable point,” he said.

“History already shows that when the organization was leaderless, splinter factions often arose,” he added.

Adhe was referring to when the Malaysia-born Noordin M Top, who was believed to be a bombmaker in JI before he left the group in 2003 or 2004, took with him some of JI's smartest young militants, to set up a more violent splinter network believed to be behind a string of bomb attacks in luxury hotels in Jakarta.

Another instance was when Immarudin, finance manager for JI’s human resource division, planned an attack, following Para’s arrest in 2019, on mainland Chinese investments as well as on Chinese workers in Indonesia, in the hope that these attacks would make the Chinese government send its military to protect its investments, thereby antagonising the Muslim community and sparking a war.

Stanislaus Riyanta, a security researcher at the University of Indonesia, said that many of an estimated 2,000 JI followers who took part in military training in Afghanistan had been active by joining social organisations.

“They are not a threat for now. But in the long term, when they have already infiltrated many elements of society and can alter the trajectory of organisations that they ride on, they will be dangerous and could threaten [to undermine] the government,” he said.

Subscribe now to our Premium Plan for an ad-free and unlimited reading experience!

Indonesia , Jemaah Islamiyah , Muslim , groups , politics


Next In Aseanplus News

PD cops nab man suspected of murdering elderly woman who spurned his advances
Asean News Headlines at 9pm on Tuesday (May 30, 2023)
Number of uber-rich people increasing in Malaysia, says report
El Nino is forecast for second half of 2023, risk of transboundary haze, says Singapore
Only 35% take-up rate for Socso's housewife protection scheme, says Sivakumar
Thai exports fall more than expected in April, may rebound in Q3
Indonesia sends 100 students to further studies in Malaysia
Chinese foreign minister holds meeting with Elon Musk in Beijing
Farid Kamil refuses to divorce wife Diana Danielle, case to continue with hakam process
Shenzhou-16 crew docks at space station, complete handover in five days (update)

Others Also Read