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Jakarta Post

On the trail of the terrorists

  • The Jakarta Post

    The Jakarta Post

  /   Mon, January 27, 2014   /  11:38 am

It started by accident.

On Oct. 12, 2002, the night of the Bali bombings, journalist Solahudin was in Bali training journalists, working for the Southeast Asian Press Alliance.

He was one of the first journalists to witness the carnage of that night, when 202 people were killed by bombs made by members of Jamaah Islamiyah (JI).

Shocked and disturbed by what he saw, Solahudin wanted answers.

In the days that followed, he monitored the the bombers'€™ cases and discovered the website of one of the men involved '€” the now infamous Imam Samudera.

'€œI read his reasons for why the attacks had happened,'€ said Solahudin. '€œThey were almost all religious, Islamic arguments. So what kind of Islam justified this killing, especially when according to the majority of Muslims in this country, the killing of civilians is prohibited, even in war?'€

Delving into the minds of terrorists, Solahudin was treading a dark path.

'€œThere were no researchers and very few academics that understood why the attacks had happened, so it was hard to find the answers,'€ he said. '€œWe thought terrorism was new in Indonesia at that time, but we didn'€™t realize many of these radical groups had existed long before the Bali attacks, during the New Order era.'€

He started at what was then the end, the backgrounds of the Bali bombers. He found they were almost all members of JI, and were connected to the Darul Islam movement.

Darul Islam first waged jihad on the government in the 1950s, its members continuing to organize uprisings decades later, despite crackdowns.

Discovering the connection, Solahudin'€™s research deepened.

'€œI checked newspaper clippings for all incidents where violence had been carried out in the name of religion in the past and read more than 200 jihadist books '€” some of which you can find in Gramedia '€” so I
understood the issue as best as I could,'€ said Solahudin.

But it was in the Central Jakarta District Court where Solahudin began to pick up the scent.

He spent weeks rummaging through court records, searching for the interrogation depositions of jihadists dating back to the 1970s. The archives were in a bad state, with staff unable to help, so Solahudin searched alone.

And it was there, in the darkness of a warehouse, that the story of Indonesian jihadism began to emerge.

'€œThe jihadi interrogation depositions were the richest information, because they contained extensive information on relevant events and on jihadi networks,'€ said Solahudin. '€œI soon realized there was an entire history behind the Bali attacks.'€

Solahudin then started to track the jihadis themselves.

If nothing else, his experiences as hostage meditator taught him that to meet face to face with clandestine groups, he needed a credible introduction.

Knowing that the base of Darul Islam was originally in West Java, Solahudin turned to old friends in Bandung for help. He was in luck: Some of his friends were in fact members of Darul Islam.

'€œThey didn'€™t want to help me at first, but once they knew I understood the history, ideology and networks of Darul Islam, they began to help,'€ said Solahudin.

The friends led him to other Darul Islam activists, who in turn introduced him to more, until eventually, he accessed senior Darul Islam figures.

Solahudin'€™s research into the clandestine world of the jihadis has had unwanted side effects. In 2005, he was refused a visa to enter Australia to study.

'€œAt that time, while researching my book I was conducting interviews with many terrorists,'€ Solahudin explains. '€œUnfortunately, one of them provided a gun to another terrorist who was then arrested. After that, the Australian government considered me as someone who knew about these individuals, and questioned my credibility.'€

Solahudin says the Australian government'€™s stance on him has since changed.

'€œIt'€™s different now. But at that time I was collecting a lot of information, so I guess the Australian government didn'€™t know if I was clear or not.'€

Today, Solahudin continues his research with the Indonesia Strategic Policy Institute. He'€™s profiling violent extremists to understand how people are transformed into terrorists.

'€œThere'€™s no single organization conducting this research in Indonesia,'€ he explains. '€œBut this question is very important as if we don'€™t know the disease, or the root causes, then how can we find the right cure?'€

Away from his research, Solahudin carries out deradicalization and prevention work via a group called Alliansi Indonesia Damai (AIDA), set up by him and a number of other activists.

Solahudin says the group has visited schools in Klaten, Central Java, to pilot its approach, which is to build counter-narratives to radical ideology through seminars involving survivors of terror attacks and those potentially vulnerable to jihadi ideology.

'€œWe chose Klaten after conducting field research of young people'€™s attitudes in the area,'€ he said. '€œWe found students that considered terrorist acts legitimate because of perceived injustices committed by the West against Muslim countries.'€

AIDA then held seminars in these schools in which they invited Muslim survivors of terror attacks in Indonesia to talk about their lives after the bombings.

'€œThe survivors spoke of their suffering, about how their lives had been ruined as a result of these attacks, and the students listened,'€ said Solahudin.

After the talk, he says, some students started to consider that violence was perhaps not the best way of addressing their grievances.

'€œTerrorists believe they are defending Muslims by engaging in violence, but actually they are destroying Muslims'€™ lives because most victims in these attacks are Muslims. That had an impact on the students,'€ said Solahudin.

 '€œWe invited a former terrorist who was actively involved in the Christmas bombings of 2000 to a seminar where victims of terror attacks talked about their experiences,'€ he said. '€œThe suffering of these survivors was beyond this individual'€™s imagination. He found it extremely difficult to come to terms with what he had done.'€

For Solahudin it is so important to understand the dynamic of jihadist ideology. '€œIf we understand that, then we understand their strategies, know their tactics and even their targets,'€ he said.

According to the author, Indonesian jihadists '€” while targeting police, where also now looking further afield.

'€œAt this moment, the epicenter of jihad for them is Syria. This is because of their ideology,'€ he explained.

Ominously, Solahudin also warned of a potential target shift in Indonesia.

'€œIf you look closely at the discussions of Indonesian jihadists, they'€™re mixing the Syria issue with anti-Shia sentiment in Indonesia, as they consider [Syrian President Bashar] al-Assad to be a Shiite repressing Muslims in Syria,'€ he said.

'€œThis means we could see Shiites in Indonesia become more of a terrorist target.'€

'€” Mark Wilson

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