Counter-Terrorism: Switching Sides in Southeast Asia

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March 9, 2006: One of the most senior Islamic terrorists in Indonesia has been working for the good guys. And there's a reason why. Despite having the world's largest Moslem population, Indonesia has not produced Islamic terrorists, or terrorist violence, in the same proportion. It's not for want of trying. For over two decades, Islamic Wahhabi radicals from Saudi Arabia have been sending missionaries and millions of dollars a year to Indonesia. This created the thousands of Indonesian Islamic radicals, mostly in urban areas. From this came the terror attacks that have occurred so far. In the past year, the Islamic terrorists have set off six bombs, leaving 55 dead. The violence was up from 2004 (when there were three bombs, and 19 dead). There was only one bombing in 2003 (12 dead), and two in 2002 (leaving 205 dead, mostly foreigners in Bali). The government has been careful in how it goes after the Moslem clergy that shelter, and advise, the terrorists. These men have been heavily influenced by Wahhabi ideas, and money. The clergy have convinced many Indonesians that any attack on the clergy would be an attack on religion, not terrorism. But as more bombs go off, fewer Indonesians believe that.

Hundreds of suspected Islamic terrorists have been arrested, and many of these were prosecuted and convicted. Interestingly, some have switched sides. Chief among these is Nasir bin Abbas, formerly a regional leader for Jemaah Islamiah (the "al Qaeda" of Southeast Asia). Abbas, who fought in Afghanistan and is a Malaysian, was arrested in 2003. His sister is married to one of the men who carried out the 2002 Bali bombing, the most deadly in Indonesian history.

Abbas is important not because he was a terrorist insider, or turned over names of other Islamic radicals. What Abbas does is exploit the biggest weakness of Southeast Asian Islamic terrorists. In that part of the world, Islam is not as hard core as it is in Saudi Arabia, and other parts of the Middle East. Wahhabism, the old school and hate-based Islamic sect of Saudi Arabia, is seen as very foreign to most Southeast Asian Moslems. Abbas exploits this to convince captured terrorists that they have been duped by evil foreigners. This is pretty compelling for an Indonesian, because most people in the country are appalled at the terrorist violence. Indonesian Islam was always kinder and gentler than the harsher Middle Eastern varieties. Indonesian counter-terrorism experts eventually saw this as the best means of fighting the Islamic violence.

 


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