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After the raid on two “kingpins” of Malaysian-born terrorist operations in Indonesia, namely “The Demolisher” Dr. Azahari Husin ( 2005) and “The Financier” Noordin M Top (2009), plus the capture — and then the executions — of the Bali bombers, Indonesian people assumed that terrorist activities would end, and the country would be free from such violence. Unfortunately, terrorist attacks continued to persist.
After deadly attacks in Aceh, Medan (North Sumatra) and Cirebon (West Java), the terrorists recently targeted Surakarta, or Solo, in Central Java.
These latest attacks are indeed a worrying sign of rising Islamist terrorist activity not only on the main island of Java but also in other parts of the archipelago.
It is significant to note that Indonesian terrorist groups, as the International Crisis Group (ICG) has reported, have built their institutional and personal networks not only in towns around Java but also in Maluku, Sulawesi and Sumatra.
It is also worth underlining that some terrorist groups in the country are purely locally based uncivilized civilian groupings that have nothing to do with al-Qaeda, a stateless international network of terrorists operating in, according to Zachary Abuza in his article “Al-Qaeda’s Asian web of terror” (Time Asia, 2002, p38-40), 50 countries stretching from the Middle East to the Philippines.
Al-Qaeda is no longer the “axis of global terrorism”, as international terrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna revealed in his fine book, Inside al-Qaeda.
The Surakarta-based terrorist cell Tim Hisbah has been accused of being behind a series of recent terrorist activities in the country, including the bombing of a church in Surakarta last year. But the latest attacks in the city, as National Police chief Gen. Timur Pradopo said, were possibly committed by a new radical group (The Jakarta Post, Sept. 1).
Unlike al-Qaeda, Indonesia’s current extremist groups do not target “distant” enemies, ie: the Western (non-Muslim) “infidels”, but local (Muslim) “infidels”, including the police.
Moreover, and most strikingly, they no longer target buildings, such as cafes, embassies or hotels belonging primarily to the United States or Australia, or churches. Rather, they target police posts and a police mosque, as was the case in Cirebon, West Java.
It is, therefore, obvious that these terrorist groups have now changed in terms of actors, interests, motives, objectives, financial resources, and perhaps even the ideology behind their deadly activities.
Radical Islamist ideologies of Wahabism and Salafism might still play some role but clearly these Islamic extremist philosophies are not the only source of present-day terrorism.
Indonesia’s new terrorist cases suggest that Islamist terrorism has morphed into an ever-more decentralized series of networks, with new targets, tactics, financial resources, and an ability to capitalize on new grievances.
In light of the recent increase in terrorist attacks across the archipelago, and given the plurality of the actors engaged in their implementation as well as the complex nature of “new” terrorism, it is high time for the government and state apparatus to apply multiple, appropriate approaches and effective techniques of strategic counterterrorism aiming at two things: (1) dismantling the terrorist networks and, over the long term, (2) prevailing over the religious convictions or ideologies that give rise to terrorism.
In this regard, security and non-military strategies need to be taken into account.
Although the Densus 88 counterterrorism unit has succeeded in capturing some terrorists and destroying some of their safe havens (which we must appreciate), they nonetheless have a burdensome task in trying to track down funds and change hearts and minds.
Despite relative successes in the state-supported global campaign against terrorism, especially since the Bali blasts in 2002, more attacks from terrorists linked to various radical Muslim groups in the country have occurred since that year.
Still, despite years of intensive attempts on the part of the government at weakening their bases, terrorist networks remain resilient and are, perhaps, strengthening.
Following the observation by peace scholars David Cortright and George Lopez in their edited volume, Uniting Against Terror: Cooperative Nonmilitary Responses to the Global Terrorist Attack (2007), Indonesia’s “small” success in its efforts to combat terrorism perhaps owes it origin from an overemphasis on “tactical counterterrorism”, which focuses on finding, destroying and defeating operative terrorist cells, while neglecting or de-emphasizing “strategic counterterrorism”, which includes multiple policy responses designed to eliminate the sustaining and underlying conditions that feed extremist terrorism.
In brief, the government is focusing too much on the “military approach”, while paying little attention to “nonmilitary strategies”.
“Due to the global nature of the terrorist threat,” David Cortright and George Lopez (2007: 2-3) remind us, “cooperative nonmilitary responses are necessary elements of counterterrorism strategy.”
No doubt, countering the multifaceted and complex threat of terrorism requires a broadly cooperative effort involving religious, legal, economic, political, cultural, and military cooperation from virtually every organization and grouping in the country.
Indonesia will never succeed in its “war on terror” if the government’s tools work in isolation from, or in conflict with, one another. Terrorists may die, but ideology never. Densus 88 can shoot them down, but they will not be able to kill the ideology — the underlying principle of terrorism!
The writer holds a Ph.D. from Boston University, and is now a visiting research scholar at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, Indiana, USA.