Counter-Terrorism: Preventing A Moslem Christmas


December 28, 2015: In Indonesia counter-terrorism police carried out several raids on Java and Sumatra before Christmas. Police make numerous arrests and seized bombs or bomb components intended for attacks on Shia and Christian communities. Christians are ten percent of the population while Shia are less than a half percent of the 87 percent of the population that is Moslem. These minorities are not evenly distributed so there are areas that are all Moslem and easier for Islamic terrorist groups to recruit and survive. The Christian islands used to be almost entirely Christian, but since the 1980s the government has encouraged (with laws, money and land) Moslems from overpopulated areas to move to less populated Christian territories. This has created frictions on islands like Sulawesi that are not entirely religious. Islamic terrorist groups began forming in the late 1990s and concentrated their attacks on non-Moslems, both local and foreign (tourists). Since 2013 small ISIL (al Qaeda in Iraq and the Levant) groups appearing and singled out Shia Moslems as well as Christians and other non-Moslems.

Despite all this since 2004 Indonesia has been pretty successful in preventing most Islamic terrorist violence. But there are still attempts. In March someone planted a chlorine bomb in a shopping center. This bomb was supposed to go off and send poisonous chlorine gas through the ventilation system. Fortunately the bomb did not operate as designed and police were able to examine the components and identify the builder. In early July another bomb went off in a shopping mall toilet, but it used low grade, homemade explosives and caused little damage and no casualties. Enough components were recovered to identify the builder as the same person who built a bomb for a 2010 attack. Police keep a close watch on Islamic radicals and the increased use of security cameras provides clues not available before. It has become very difficult to be an Islamic terrorist in Indonesia.

While able to control Islamic terrorism within its borders Indonesia is still struggling with the problem of Indonesians going abroad to commit terrorist acts. This shortcoming became highly visible in 2014 when a wealthy businessman claimed to be the leader of the Indonesia branch of ISIL and was openly encouraging Indonesians to go and fight in Syria. The businessman (Chep Hernawan) pointed out that ISIL was not active in Indonesia because there was no need to be. But in countries like Syria and Iraq there is a need to violently defend Islam. Hernawan provides money and contacts to get volunteers to Syria and police believe that at hundreds of Indonesians have gone to Syria to fight and that some are known to have been killed there. At least a hundred have returned and there are believed to be at least a thousand ISIL supporters in Indonesia. ISIL is now operational within Indonesia and the government is eager to block ISIL efforts. Most Indonesians oppose such recruiting and support for ISIL outside Indonesia, but police point out that there is no law against this and attempts to pass such a law have always been thwarted by Islamic conservative politicians. The recently elected Indonesian president seeks to change that, but it may still take a while.

Meanwhile Hernawan was arrested in early 2015 on fraud charges and later convicted and sent to prison for six months. He will be free in early 2016 and back to work promoting ISIL. This bothers many Indonesians who remember what happened when several dozen Indonesians who went to fight in with al Qaeda Afghanistan during the 1980s returned to Indonesia and formed Islamic terrorist groups that, after 2001, carried out several spectacular attacks, including one in 2002 that killed nearly 200 foreign tourists. This resulted in a major counter-terrorism campaign that eventually killed or drove into exile nearly all the active Indonesian Islamic terrorists. There is a real fear that some of those ISIL members returning from Syria will try to emulate what the Afghan veterans did. In 2015 police said that they were monitoring returning ISIL men would act against any that planned terrorist activities in Indonesia. The recent arrests are apparently a result of that surveillance program and now a law outlawing overseas Islamic terrorist activity will be easier to pass. Even with the conviction of ISIL terrorists Islamic conservative politicians will still try to block that kind of law.

In addition to the new ISIL threat the main Indonesian anti-terror organization, Detachment 88, has been seeking to shut down the last few older Islamic terrorist organizations still active in the country. The main one of these now active is MIT (Mujahadeen Indonesia Timur, or Mujahadeen of Eastern Indonesia) which is led by Santoso (single names are common in this region). The group has carried out some attacks in the last few years but has suffered heavy losses in the process. For example on February 7th 2014 two of Santoso’s lieutenants were killed when they tried to ambush some police but were detected by the alert cops and hit with a more firepower than they expected. The month before police captured two MIT men who were on their way to plant some bombs. Detachment 88 has found that MIT is concentrating most of its efforts on recruiting and setting up trained cells of terrorists in other parts of the country. Detachment 88 thus has an advantage in that their counter-terrorism operatives are very experienced while most of the people they are hunting are not and thus easier to track down. MIT has been further weakened by members who have gone off to join ISIL.

Since 2013 Detachment 88 has had a lot of success detecting and arresting Islamic terrorists all over Indonesia. These Islamic radicals are not popular with most Indonesians and the police get plenty of useful tips. Islamic terrorist groups help make themselves targets by carrying out armed robberies and other criminal acts to support their operations. A lot of this counter-terrorism activity takes place in central Indonesia and the island of Sulawesi. For two decades this island has been the scene of growing Islamic radicalism and terrorism. That’s because over half the population on Sulawesi is non-Moslem (mostly Christian). In the late 1990s, Islamic militants came along, preaching violence against infidels (non-Moslems). Over a thousand people have died so far, but extra police and soldiers have, since 2009, eliminated most of the violence. Hundreds of Islamic radicals are still on the island and nearby West Java, and are still preaching violence. Police activity in Sulawesi keeps increasing because it was believed more members of terror group Jemaah Islamiah (JI) were coming to Sulawesi to hide out. Detachment 88 made Sulawesi very uncomfortable for the Islamic terrorists but it is known that MIT still has some hidden camps out in the Sulawesi jungles. Currently police are searching parts of Sulawesi where Santoso is believed to be hiding.

When counter-terrorism wiped out the JI presence on Sulawesi new Islamic radical groups formed. Over the last decade the police have been working their way down an increasingly threadbare list of terrorist suspects. Moreover, it's been years since JI has been able to launch a major attack. This is because counter-terrorism forces have created a good intelligence network. Thus threats are quickly detected. Since 2007 attacks against non-Moslems have resulted in a stronger and stronger backlash from the police, and Christians. After 2007 the vigilantes switched tactics and began concentrating on driving Christians into ghettos, and reducing the number of Moslems converting to Christianity. Anti-infidel (non-Moslem) violence remains a growing problem, as Islamic radicals seek an outlet for their aggression that won't land them in prison. All this Islamic radical activity keeps producing new recruits for Islamic terror groups. With little support from mosques or the larger Islamic organizations, these new Islamic terrorists have to resort to crime to fund their operations.




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