Indonesia's most-wanted awakens new generation of militants

Published 26.08.2016 23:14

During a May 2011 shootout, Indonesia's counter-terrorism forces killed the leader of a militant group thought to be behind a series of failed bomb attempts around the city of Solo in Central Java. The death of "Team Hisbah" founder Sigit Qurdowi caused the group to splinter. Some formed an anti-vice squad in the city; many others became associated with a former Solo resident called Bahrun Naim, who authorities believe is a leading Indonesian coordinator for DAESH. Now, five years later, Naim, based in DAESH's stronghold of Raqqa, Syria, is building an ever-more sophisticated network of militants from his former hometown, according to police, self-proclaimed radicals and people who work with the militants in Solo. Solo, which has a long history of schools and mosques associated with radicals, is a breeding ground for Naim's recruits, counter-terrorism officials say, and many of his lieutenants in Indonesia have come from Team Hisbah. As a result, authorities fear the risk of a major attack in Indonesia is growing.

Radicalism in the world's most populous Muslim-majority nation has been contained since a crackdown on Jemaah Islamiyah, al-Qaida's franchise in the region, put hundreds of its leaders and followers behind bars in the mid-2000s. But like al-Qaida before it, DAESH is reviving a fragmented radical movement in Indonesia that has endured in various incarnations for the past century, authorities say. Nearly $800,000 has been transferred from foreign countries to fund radical groups in Indonesia since 2014, officials from Indonesia's financial transactions watchdog said at an international counter-terrorism conference in Bali in mid-August. It wasn't clear how much money has come from Naim, who police say is now Indonesia's most-wanted militant.

Reuters contacted a man identified as Naim last November on the Telegram app, using details provided by one of his acquaintances. In that exchange, Naim said DAESH had "enough men in Indonesia to carry out an action, more than enough support. Just waiting for the right trigger." Reuters could not independently verify the man's identity or his assertions.

Amir Mahmud, a former Afghan-trained mujahideen, started the DAESH Supporters Forum in Solo (also known as Surakarta) in July 2014 to "accommodate the development" of an extremist movement in Indonesia. Around 2,000 people showed up to one of its first gatherings at the Baitul Makmur Mosque, he said. "This is a spontaneous spiritual calling," said Mahmud, who is also a university lecturer. "DAESH," he added, "is a booming movement." Mahmud said two of his sons left Indonesia to fight for DAESH in the Middle East, and one has since been killed. Indonesia does not prohibit citizens from supporting groups such as DAESH or fighting for them abroad. Police say they can arrest terrorism suspects only once they have committed a crime on Indonesian soil. "If there is a person who declares support for DAESH, that becomes preliminary evidence for police to investigate whether they are involved in terrorist groups or activities," Freddy Haris, the justice ministry's director-general for laws told Reuters. "If there is proof they are involved, then we proceed with (legal) action." Mahmud, who has not been charged in any militant plot, noted that contacting Naim online was not difficult. "Bahrun Naim created a website on detonation, and people can access that," he said, speaking in a small restaurant near the palace of the Solo sultan. That has been difficult, however, since the government has blocked blogs and websites linked to Naim. Security officials acknowledged that Naim continues to communicate with his recruits through social media and messaging apps. Edi Lukito, leader of an anti-vice squad called Laskar Umat Islam Surakarta (Surakarta Muslim Battalion) said he knew of regular bank payments Naim made to at least one young recruit in the city. "This young generation has an extraordinary passion for fight and they want to carry guns quickly," said Lukito, who said he does not support DAESH.

Although not a member of Team Hisbah himself, Naim was the liaison between DAESH and Hisbah members when he was running an Internet cafe in Solo, the Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC) said. He disappeared in January 2015 after serving time in prison on a 2011 conviction for possession of ammunition and police believed he moved to Syria. Naim emerged from obscurity a year later, when police identified him as the mastermind of gun and bomb attacks in central Jakarta that killed eight people, including the four attackers. Since then, he's been linked to other thwarted attacks, including a foiled plot, led by Solo native Gigih Rahmat Dewa, to launch a rocket into Singapore's Marina Bay casino resort area, using a boat from the neighboring Indonesian island of Batam. Another member of Team Hisbah, counter-terrorism police told Reuters, was 31-year-old Nur Rohman. He blew himself up outside a police station in Solo in July, one of a series of attacks claimed by DAESH across the world during the Ramadan fasting month, including the killings of foreigners at an upscale cafe in Dhaka just days earlier.

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