December 16, 2022
JAKARTA – The latest terrorist attack in Bandung on Dec. 7 should give cause for concern for at least two reasons. Not only was it the 14th suicide bombing to have rocked the country since the Bali bombing in 2002 that killed 202 people. The blast also showed that terrorist recidivism remains a clear and present danger amid Indonesia’s efforts to eradicate terrorism and violent extremism.
In the recent attack, a recidivist terrorist, identified as Agus Sujatno, alias Abu Muslim, blew himself up in Astana Anyar Police station in the West Java provincial capital. The attack also took the life of a police officer and injured 11 other people.
Agus, who was affiliated with the Islamic State-supporting group Jama’ah Ansharut Daulah (JAD), was a repeat terrorist offender. He had been convicted for his role in an act of terrorism also in Bandung in 2017, and was released from prison four years later.
The rate of terrorist recidivism in Indonesia is quite high. Between 2002 and 2020, at least 94 terrorist ex-convicts returned to terrorism. They account for 11.39 percent of terrorist inmates released in that period.
In contrast, in Europe the recividism rate only stands at between 2 and 7 percent. This is possibly due to, for example, effective coordination among various state agencies implemented through the Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements (MAPPA) in the United Kingdom. In this scheme police and prison service officials in England and Wales work together with other agencies to prevent and tackle problems stemming from harmful plans or acts by violent or sexual reoffenders living in the community, including terrorist recidivists.
Many ex-terrorists in Europe also disavow the jihadist ideology because they are cut off from the ideological and social context they were exposed to due to their long prison terms.
Indonesia faces a higher rate of recidivism among its jihadists because problems in the country are more complex. Many terrorist ex-convicts in Indonesia are still exposed to dangerous jihadist ideologies after they are released from prison. This is a result of internal and external factors.
The internal factors refer to the mental dilemma that the convicted terrorists face after they regain freedom. Many of them still feel indebted to the terrorist network in their post-prison life, because the latter emotionally and financially supported their families while they were imprisoned. This feeling of indebtedness compels them to rejoin the network.
They also refrain from joining the government-sponsored de-radicalization and disengagement programs due to fears that, if they do so, they will be labeled by their fellow jihadists as kafir (apostate) or collaborators of thaghut (anyone who worships a god/gods apart from Allah). Their failure to join the program contributes to the high rate of recidivism among convicted terrorists.
The external factors refer to outside environments that facilitate the convicted terrorists to repeat their terror activities. Affordable and easy access to the internet result in many ex-terrorists being active on social media, and this access revives or perpetuates their exposure to adverse jihadist narratives, especially those that support suicide bombing.
As seen in pro-Islamic State Telegram accounts, terrorist ex-convicts applauded Agus’ suicidal act. He was suddenly nicknamed Al-Faruq by fellow jihadists, an Arabic word for the distinguisher, meaning he distinguished right from wrong. Another supporter said, that the death of Agus was a triumph over the murtaddin (people who disconnect from jihadist networks or who abandon the jihadist cause).
The terrorist ex-convict further writes: “Nowadays, many terrorist ex-convicts become murtad after being released from prison. They are zindiq [heretics], spies, syahwat [lustful], banci [cowards, literally cissies] and pro thaghut.” This kind of support for the jihadist cause encourages terrorist ex-convicts to perpetuate their campaigns of terror.
Other external factors include lack of government funding and lack of legal mechanisms that can compel convicted terrorists to participate in the de-radicalization program that is seen as crucial to reducing the instances of recidivism among terrorist ex-convicts.
The government also lacks funding and resources to monitor the growing number of terrorist inmates. In Central Java, for example, the cash-strapped government has managed only to assign 10 people to monitor some 200 terrorist ex-convicts.
Worse, the de-radicalization program is not compulsory since it is not an integral part of the Indonesian penal system, hence the legal and security apparatus cannot force terrorist ex-convicts to participate. Agus was one of the terrorist ex-convicts who refused to join the program.
The government, through the National Counter-Terrorism Agency (BNPT), has implemented de-radicalization and disengagement strategies to address the high-rate of recidivism, which, respectively, aim at moderating the terrorist ideological outlook and disengaging it from terrorist networks. However, the strategy is not effective.
In Governabilitas journal (2021), Minardi argues a lack of coordination between the BNPT and prison authorities under the Law and Human Rights Ministry results in the ineffectiveness of the de-radicalization program. Prison authorities are reluctant to follow BNPT principles and methods in fostering terrorist inmates because they have their own arguments, methods and principles that have been implemented for years in fostering inmates, including terrorist inmates. This kind of sectoral ego only undermines the de-radicalization program.
Monitoring and fostering terrorist ex-convicts in post-prison life is an even more complex endeavor. Terrorist ex-convicts are social beings. Many are fathers, husbands hence they are under pressure to make ends meet. They easily return to their old network, who used to support their families.
All these challenges facing terrorist ex-convicts cannot be dealt with by a single government agency, but concerted efforts involving other government and non-government organizations such as social workers and community organizations can. Multiple stakeholders will make the de-radicalization and the disengagement strategies a success.
Prakoso Permono is PhD candidate at the Faculty of Social Sciences, Indonesian International Islamic University (UIII). A’an Suryana is visiting fellow at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, Singapore, and a lecturer in political science at UIII.