‘A potent force with network in region
THE Jemaah Islamiah is small compared to other militant groups in Indonesia but it has an international reach that makes it a potent and dangerous force.
Established in 1995, it has built up a regional network that covers Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore, and a line of patronage to Osama bin Laden’s Al-Qaeda network.
In Indonesia, it set up base in Solo and other parts of Central Java, where there are reportedly 1,500 members, and in Tasikmalaya, West Java, where there are 500 members.
All of them are now on the run, seeking refuge in Batam and the Riau islands after the recent crackdown in Singapore and Malaysia.
The tightly run JI is organised along hierarchical lines.
It has a five-man central executive board, which coordinates activities with militants in neighbouring countries and formulates ideology and doctrine.
Sources say that JI also employs professionals to handle matters of finance, recruitment and welfare of its members, many of whom are “sleepers”.
And blending in with the rakyat makes it hard for intelligence operatives to track them.
Recruitment is very selective, based on careful screening of family background and sound knowledge of Islamic fundamentals.
“We are not a mass organisation,” said a senior JI source.
“We want people who will be loyal to the aims of our group.”
Most members go through three training phases, he said.
In the first stage, which lasts up to a year, they are placed in selected pesantrans or religious boarding schools to study in-depth the Quran.
The next six months are devoted to the study of theories of nation- building and different models of government – democratic, authoritarian, monarchies – and ways to build an Islamic theocracy in a world controlled by “the Great Satan” – the United States.
The last phase involves physical exercises and training in the use of traditional arms.
A select few – about 50 so far – have been sent to Afghanistan to be trained by the Al-Qaeda, said the JI source. In Kandahar, together with members from Malaysia and the Philippines, these JI members were taught how to use guns, assemble bombs, make Molotov cocktails, carry out surveillance and sabotage operations and fight a guerilla war.
None of the JI members had personal contact with terrorist chief Osama, though they claimed to have met Al-Qaeda’s chief strategist Mohammed Atef, who was killed in the outskirts of Kabul by American airstrikes in November.
After three months of military training, they returned to Indonesia to teach other members what they had learnt and engage in joint operations with JI terrorist cells in neighbouring states.
JI’s objective, couched under a doctrine called “Nusantara Raya”, is to build an Islamic republic encompassing Indonesia, Malaysia and the southern Philippines.
Why Asia and why these three targets?
A JI official noted that Asia is the other region in the world with the largest concentration of Muslims after the Middle East. Their targets would all make the “transition” to Islamic states because they were Muslim-populated countries.
Brunei was considered an option but the JI backed down because Bandar Seri Begawan had a well-entrenched monarchy that would be difficult to topple.
Singapore did not figure too because it was perceived to be “only for Chinese and Christians”.
But in the grand scheme of things, the JI viewed both Singapore and Brunei as critical for “third-country operations” and also potential targets for acts of terrorism because they were seen as staunch US allies.