November 1, 2023
JAKARTA – Indonesia’s anti-terror police said on Tuesday they have arrested suspected terrorists over a plot to attack police facilities to disrupt the presidential and legislative elections on Feb 14, 2024.
Altogether, 59 suspects were arrested, 40 of whom are from Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD), the country’s largest local terror group, which has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
The rest are from South-east Asian terror group Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), which is linked to Al-Qaeda. These were not mere sympathisers but held “structural positions in JI”, actively spreading terrorist propaganda and radical materials through both social media and “physical training”, said Senior Commissioner Aswin Siregar of the Detachment 88 counter-terrorism task force.
The suspects were rounded up between Oct 2 and Oct 28. A number of firearms, including an AK-47 assault rifle, were seized, along with bomb-making chemicals such as sulphur and Himalayan salt, which is a replacement for hydrochloric acid used in explosives. Police also confiscated some propaganda materials.
“During the questioning by the anti-terror squad, several suspects said they viewed elections as a process of democracy, which is immoral and against Islamic law such that they want to disrupt it,” said Mr Aswin at a press conference in Jakarta on Tuesday.
According to Mr Muh Taufiqurrohman, a senior researcher at the Jakarta-based Centre for Radicalism and Deradicalisation Studies (Pakar) think-tank, the JI suspects were involved in terrorist activities, including illegal paramilitary training, while the JAD suspects were active on social media, spreading ISIS propaganda and planning to attack security forces.
He said a group of recidivists among the suspects were the ones planning an attack targeting the 2024 presidential election.
The new group, consisting of members from various terror organisations, does not yet have a name, but has links to militant Abu Umar.
Also known as Zulfikar, Abu Umar in 2011 plotted to attack the police and Singapore embassy in Jakarta, among other places.
His other roles included organising military trainings in Mindanao, the Philippines; and in Sulawesi, Indonesia, as well as coordinating the smuggling of arms and ammunition from the Philippines into Indonesia, according to Mr Taufiqurrohman.
“Eight of them were ex-convicts who had also planned to attack the police. When they came out of prison, they had not yet repented and were happy to join Abu Umar, who motivated them to continue their struggle and resistance against the security forces and non-Muslims,” said Mr Taufiqurrohman.
Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim country, has witnessed a string of Islamist strikes in the years after the Sept 11, 2001 terror attacks in the United States. The attacks included bombings on the holiday island of Bali in 2002 that killed more than 200 people, many of them Australian tourists.
While the militant threat in Indonesia has diminished significantly, largely because of successful security force operations, security threats remain.
“Just like wild animals, being weakened does not mean safe. They can rise and then attack us at any time. Therefore, we must always be alert,” Mr Taufiqurrohman added.
Security analysts differed when asked if Israel’s ongoing bombardment of Gaza would galvanise recruitment for Muslim militant groups due to the perceived oppression of Palestinians. Israel has been on a retaliation campaign after militant group Hamas attacked the south of the country on Oct 7.
Terror analyst Noor Huda Ismail said the conflict in Palestine could drive radical recruitment by terror groups in Indonesia.
“This is already happening. While expressing our solidarity towards the Palestinian cause is very justified, sadly some supporters of radical groups are also there. This is like a deja vu moment,” said Dr Noor Huda, a visiting fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.
But Pakar’s Mr Taufiqurrohman noted: “In a pro-ISIS Telegram group, pro-ISIS militants have expressed their interest in going to Palestine, but there was no recruitment – they only asked how to get to Palestine.”
On Tuesday, Indonesia’s anti-terror police warned the public against taking part in pro-Palestinian protests and fund-raising activities being staged by several terror groups.
“With several global conflicts happening around the world, we hope the public does not get carried away and support and give undirected funds, as well as participate in demonstrations which are actually staged by several terror groups to raise issues of solidarity, oppression, and humanitarian issues fanning passions to carry out terror acts,” said Mr Aswin from Detachment 88, without specifying the conflicts.
“We all hope for conducive domestic security conditions. Detachment 88 will never stop carrying out supervision and monitoring of the activities of these terror groups, both on a network or individual scale,” he added.