Headlines

Indonesia launches first
counterterrorism agency

After a decade of waiting, Indonesia finally saw on Tuesday the birth of the interdepartmental National Antiterrorism Agency (BNPT), which wields greater authority than the National Police’s Special Detachment 88 counterterrorism squad.

Insp. Gen. (ret) Ansyaad Mbai, who was appointed chief of the agency, said the BNPT would have a wide range of authorities in the prevention and eradication of terrorism.

“To make it effective, we need close cooperation with other institutions such as the military, the Religious Affairs Ministry, academics and other related parties,” Mbai told journalists after his swearing-in ceremony.

Human rights activists have voiced concern that the new antiterrorism agency wields too much power and is reminiscent of the kind of state authority that the New Order regime used to quash government critics.

Critics pointed to the unclear definition of “terror activities” and greater participation of the military in the antiterrorism movement as stipulated in the presidential regulation on the agency’s
establishment, which they said might be used to intimidate innocent citizens.

Under the new agency, the police will maintain their leading role in antiterrorism activities.

One of the agency’s priorities, Mbai said, should be to widen its surveillance because there were still scores of terror suspects on the loose.

The agency, he added, could keep an eye on suspected militant training grounds in Solo, Banten and Medan. This year the police raided one such training facility in Aceh, arresting 102 terror suspects.

“The terrorists typically quickly abandon their training grounds having completed their exercises, leaving no trace,” he said. “The Aceh training ground is considered the biggest ever in terms of [the number of] participants,” Mbai said.

“If they are well trained they will do anything including robbery to finance their activities. It’s like the recent robbery in Medan... it’s likely that the incident involved terror groups,” he said.

He said that now the military was reluctant to assist in antiterrorism activities due to suspicion
surrounding its history of human rights abuses.

Under the aurthority of the BNPT, he said, the police would need the Army’s support in conducting its missions.

“We are in dire need of additional military resources to provide back up. Besides, just name a country
that doesn’t involve its military in pursuing terrorism and you’ll likely find that the answer is there is none,” he said.

Noor Huda Ismail of the Prasasti Perdamaian Foundation, which runs a deradicalization program for  former terrorists, said he welcomed the BNPT.

“But I strongly suggest the government change its approach in fighting terrorism from a rather militaristic way to a more personal approach,” Noor Huda said.

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