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© 2021 Oriental Institute, The Czech Academy of Sciences, Kevin L. Schwartz, and Ameem Lutfi
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The terrorist attacks of 9/11 on American soil altered not only the international security environment but also the domestic power equilibrium in several Southeast Asian countries. The incumbent Malaysian and Philippine governments used the situation to beef up their positions by cracking down on militant Islamist groups.1 But in Indonesia, the world´s largest Muslim-majority country, the cabinet´s response against Islamist extremists was both largely insufficient and disappointing. The initial inaction of Megawati Soekarnoputri´s administration may be explained by the president's desire to avoid antagonizing the country's popular Islamic circles. The same can be said of the Indonesian armed forces Tentara Nasional Indonesia or TNI which did not want to alienate the forces of political Islam that were growing increasingly powerful in the liberated milieu of post-1998 Indonesia. It did not help that Vice-President Hamzah Haz, chair of a conservative Islamic party, openly sympathized with radical Islamist groupings and was critical when Megawati, a secular politician, showed a degree of willingness to cooperate with Western allies. But, on the whole, the country's leadership seemed to have been in denial of the threat arising from a large terrorist organization operating across the archipelago. Some leading politicians and top-brass generals even bragged about their friendly ties with hardline Islamists. Among them was the then speaker of the House of Representatives, Amien Rais, who mobilized a million-strong demonstration in support of Muslims fighting Christians in Indonesia’s Maluku Islands in 2000. Megawati´s cabinet kept underestimating the warnings from U.S. and Singaporean intelligence concerning the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), a terrorist network loosely linked to al-Qaeda. This disregard led to temporary friction in U.S.-Indonesia relations over what the United States must have perceived as Indonesia´s failure to support their Global War on Terror campaign The massive terrorist attack of 12 October 2002 on entertainment venues in the tourist resort of Kuta, known as the Bali Bombing, in which 202 people, including eighty-nine foreigners, were killed, came as a harsh wake-up call, following which the Indonesian government was forced to admit to the existence of terrorist groups on the country’s soil. The cabinet´s response was immediate, a result of finally realizing the country's vulnerability the economic impact of the attack and drastic drop in tourism and U.S. pressure. Megawati agreed to the formation of a joint team of Australian, British, and U.S. police to assist in the investigation. The security forces detained Abu Bakar Baasyir, the spiritual leader of JI, in a move the police had previously claimed as impossible owing to a lack of evidence. Furthermore, the cabinet issued a regulation boosting its legal powers to fight terrorism (PERPU 1/2002), which allowed detention of suspects up to six months without trial. It was apparent that President Megawati had become serious about pursuing an anti-terrorism campaign. Soon after the bombing, thirty-three terrorist suspects were arrested, including the key figures behind the attacks the brothers Mukhlas, Ali Imron, and Amrozi, as well as Imam Samudra. They were put on trial and the former three were sentenced to death, while the latter received a life sentence since he showed remorse.2 By handing down these sentences, the Indonesian judiciary showed an uncompromising stance toward terrorism, but it is noteworthy that the convicts were given unprecedented media attention and treated as rock stars when interviewed before the execution. Abu Bakar himself got away with only a four-year sentence for treason, thanks to the support of the vice-president. In spite of these controversies, the government showed determination by creating a special anti-terrorist police task force, known as Densus 88 (Detasemen Khusus 88, or “Special Detachment 88”), which hunted down other JI members and generally succeeded in disrupting the group’s network. In addition, the Laskar Jihad militia, which joined in the ethno-religious strife against Christians in the Malukus, was disbanded in 2003 and its leader, Umar Thalib, sent to prison in the aftermath of the Bali Bombing. Megawati´s successor, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (2004−2014), however, showed greater leniency towards Islamist radical movements. One of these was the high-profile vigilante group Front Pembela Islam (Islamic Defenders´ Front or FPI), which “specialized” in raids against “places of vice,” such as night clubs, and waged a violent campaign against the Ahmadiyya sect and other religious minorities. The perpetrators of violence typically got away with severely low sentences, while the victims were often subjected to discrimination. This situation may be explained by the hardliners´ cordial ties with high-powered patrons among the police, who did not wish to appear anti-Islamic. But there may be another explanation. While the Yudhoyono administration was convinced that international terrorism had to be stopped by any means possible, due to the tarnishing of Indonesia´s international image and ruined economy, it also believed that Islamist radicalism cannot be completely eradicated and thus reasoned it was best to allow radical movements to redirect their aggressiveness toward domestic minority groups like the Ahmadiyya and Shia.3 The trend of hunting down terrorists by Densus 88 continued under the new president Joko Widodo (2014–). However, the influence of hardline Islamist movements came to the fore in late 2016, when they mobilized half a million followers in Jakarta to protest against the Christian-Chinese governor of the capital city, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, also known as “Ahok.” A tampered video of his alleged blasphemy against Islam was circulated and, as a result of this concentrated pressure, Ahok not only lost the gubernatorial election in February 2017 but also was sentenced to two years in prison the following May. Wary of radical Islam’s growing popularity after the Ahok protests, the Indonesian government, in another twist, once again started cracking down on Islamist groups. It banned one of these groupings, Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI), which did not promote violence, but ideologically strove for the establishment of an Islamic caliphate. In late 2020, a similar action was taken against the FPI. Following the return of its leader, Habib Rizieq, from exile in Saudi Arabia, the movement became re-energized, causing havoc in the capital. The group's leader was apprehended for not complying with COVID-19 protocols and, on 30 December 2020, the group was banned. The move against Rizieq signals that the Indonesian government is finally determined to crush not only terrorist networks per se but also other hardline Islamist groups, especially those that cross the line by posing a challenge to the government and threatening to destabilize the country.
Choo Youn-Kong/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
September 8, 2021 Keeping Watch: Islamism in Indonesia after 9/11 and the Bali Bombing of 2002
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HOME HOME THEMATICS THEMATICS Choo Youn-Kong/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
The terrorist attacks of 9/11 on American soil altered not only the international security environment but also the domestic power equilibrium in several Southeast Asian countries. The incumbent Malaysian and Philippine governments used the situation to beef up their positions by cracking down on militant Islamist groups.1 But in Indonesia, the world´s largest Muslim-majority country, the cabinet´s response against Islamist extremists was both largely insufficient and disappointing. The initial inaction of Megawati Soekarnoputri´s administration may be explained by the president's desire to avoid antagonizing the country's popular Islamic circles. The same can be said of the Indonesian armed forces Tentara Nasional Indonesia or TNI which did not want to alienate the forces of political Islam that were growing increasingly powerful in the liberated milieu of post-1998 Indonesia. It did not help that Vice-President Hamzah Haz, chair of a conservative Islamic party, openly sympathized with radical Islamist groupings and was critical when Megawati, a secular politician, showed a degree of willingness to cooperate with Western allies. But, on the whole, the country's leadership seemed to have been in denial of the threat arising from a large terrorist organization operating across the archipelago. Some leading politicians and top-brass generals even bragged about their friendly ties with hardline Islamists. Among them was the then speaker of the House of Representatives, Amien Rais, who mobilized a million-strong demonstration in support of Muslims fighting Christians in Indonesia’s Maluku Islands in 2000. Megawati´s cabinet kept underestimating the warnings from U.S. and Singaporean intelligence concerning the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), a terrorist network loosely linked to al-Qaeda. This disregard led to temporary friction in U.S.-Indonesia relations over what the United States must have perceived as Indonesia´s failure to support their Global War on Terror campaign The massive terrorist attack of 12 October 2002 on entertainment venues in the tourist resort of Kuta, known as the Bali Bombing, in which 202 people, including eighty-nine foreigners, were killed, came as a harsh wake-up call, following which the Indonesian government was forced to admit to the existence of terrorist groups on the country’s soil. The cabinet´s response was immediate, a result of finally realizing the country's vulnerability the economic impact of the attack and drastic drop in tourism and U.S. pressure. Megawati agreed to the formation of a joint team of Australian, British, and U.S. police to assist in the investigation. The security forces detained Abu Bakar Baasyir, the spiritual leader of JI, in a move the police had previously claimed as impossible owing to a lack of evidence. Furthermore, the cabinet issued a regulation boosting its legal powers to fight terrorism (PERPU 1/2002), which allowed detention of suspects up to six months without trial. It was apparent that President Megawati had become serious about pursuing an anti-terrorism campaign. Soon after the bombing, thirty-three terrorist suspects were arrested, including the key figures behind the attacks the brothers Mukhlas, Ali Imron, and Amrozi, as well as Imam Samudra. They were put on trial and the former three were sentenced to death, while the latter received a life sentence since he showed remorse.2 By handing down these sentences, the Indonesian judiciary showed an uncompromising stance toward terrorism, but it is noteworthy that the convicts were given unprecedented media attention and treated as rock stars when interviewed before the execution. Abu Bakar himself got away with only a four-year sentence for treason, thanks to the support of the vice- president. In spite of these controversies, the government showed determination by creating a special anti- terrorist police task force, known as Densus 88 (Detasemen Khusus 88, or “Special Detachment 88”), which hunted down other JI members and generally succeeded in disrupting the group’s network. In addition, the Laskar Jihad militia, which joined in the ethno-religious strife against Christians in the Malukus, was disbanded in 2003 and its leader, Umar Thalib, sent to prison in the aftermath of the Bali Bombing. Megawati´s successor, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (2004−2014), however, showed greater leniency towards Islamist radical movements. One of these was the high-profile vigilante group Front Pembela Islam (Islamic Defenders´ Front or FPI), which “specialized” in raids against “places of vice,” such as night clubs, and waged a violent campaign against the Ahmadiyya sect and other religious minorities. The perpetrators of violence typically got away with severely low sentences, while the victims were often subjected to discrimination. This situation may be explained by the hardliners´ cordial ties with high-powered patrons among the police, who did not wish to appear anti- Islamic. But there may be another explanation. While the Yudhoyono administration was convinced that international terrorism had to be stopped by any means possible, due to the tarnishing of Indonesia´s international image and ruined economy, it also believed that Islamist radicalism cannot be completely eradicated and thus reasoned it was best to allow radical movements to redirect their aggressiveness toward domestic minority groups like the Ahmadiyya and Shia.3 The trend of hunting down terrorists by Densus 88 continued under the new president Joko Widodo (2014–). However, the influence of hardline Islamist movements came to the fore in late 2016, when they mobilized half a million followers in Jakarta to protest against the Christian-Chinese governor of the capital city, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, also known as “Ahok.” A tampered video of his alleged blasphemy against Islam was circulated and, as a result of this concentrated pressure, Ahok not only lost the gubernatorial election in February 2017 but also was sentenced to two years in prison the following May. Wary of radical Islam’s growing popularity after the Ahok protests, the Indonesian government, in another twist, once again started cracking down on Islamist groups. It banned one of these groupings, Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI), which did not promote violence, but ideologically strove for the establishment of an Islamic caliphate. In late 2020, a similar action was taken against the FPI. Following the return of its leader, Habib Rizieq, from exile in Saudi Arabia, the movement became re-energized, causing havoc in the capital. The group's leader was apprehended for not complying with COVID-19 protocols and, on 30 December 2020, the group was banned. The move against Rizieq signals that the Indonesian government is finally determined to crush not only terrorist networks per se but also other hardline Islamist groups, especially those that cross the line by posing a challenge to the government and threatening to destabilize the country.
© 2021 Oriental Institute, The Czech Academy of Sciences, Kevin L. Schwartz, and Ameem Lutfi
© 2021 Oriental Institute, The Czech Academy of Sciences, Kevin L. Schwartz, and Ameem Lutfi
Keeping Watch: Islamism in Indonesia after 9/11 and the Bali Bombing of 2002
Written by
Research fellow at the Oriental Institute, Czech Academy of Sciences and Assistant Professor of Indonesian Studies at Charles University in Prague.
If you are interested in contributing an article for the project, please send a short summary of the proposed topic (no more than 200 words) and brief bio to submissions@911legacies.com. For all other matters, please contact inquiry@911legacies.com.
CONTACT