In September 2009, one of the most wanted terrorists in Indonesia was shot dead by police in Central Java. Noordin Top was accused of being behind a series of terrorist attacks, including the 2002 Bali bombings. 400 suspected terrorists have been arrested as part of the Indonesian government’s counter-terrorism measures in the past 10 years.
Indonesia's most-wanted terrorist, Noordin Top, was killed last September
With the killing of Noordin Mohammed Top, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono expressed his relief. “Now that this is behind us I hope that we have put an end to the wave of terror in our country,” he said.
He was speaking just a month after two suicide attacks on two hotels in the capital city Jakarta had killed nine people and injured dozens. It was immediately blamed on the Jemaah Islamiyah militant network.
At the time, Indonesian political scientist Sony Tanuwidjaja hinted that it could happen again: “The fact that this happens, on this scale, in a place where security is very tight shows that there is a hole in that security and I think that the security, the police force still have a lot to learn.”
Alternative ways of combating terrorism
But some see alternative ways of combating terrorism to tightening security measures.
Noor Huda Ismail attended a Jemaah Islamiyah school, the Al-Mukmin Pesantren in Ngruki that was founded in 1972. Many of its graduates have been implicated in terrorist attacks, including some of Noor Huda Ismail’s classmates.
He explains that many of them went to military training camps in Peshawar, Pakistan, to fight as Mujahedeen in Afghanistan and their ideas became more radical.
“There was ongoing recruitment back then. They travelled normally, using normal passports and normal accommodation,” he recalls.
“Back then, there was a huge movement all over the Muslim world, which was backed by the West. They got the funding from the Arab world, as well as the US. That’s very clear, very well-documented.”
Why do some choose the path of terrorism?
To find out more why some of them had chosen the path of terrorism, Ismail set up a think tank that he named the Institute for International Peacebuilding Yayasan Prasasti Perdamaian. The institute interviews terrorists in and out of jail and also talks to people in training camps.
It also runs conflict-management programmes in eight prisons in Indonesia to mediate between imprisoned terrorists or suspected terrorists and guards.
Ismail has set up rehabilitation programmes as well so that former militants and prisoners can re-adapt to “normal” life, find jobs, get married…
Important not to stigmatise suspected terrorists
Ismail thinks that he himself did not turn into a terrorist because he was exposed to other ideas. He is also certain that others can change their views.
“I do not think that brotherhood, the friendship among them, the bond, is dangerous. What is dangerous is when they start thinking that to carry out an attack in a non-conflict area, like Indonesia, is justified. That is the danger, when such an ideology is coupled with the friendship that they have in Pakistan, in Peshawar…”
“But one has to understand also that many of the Afghan alumni actually go back to society and live normally so we cannot label them as terrorists,” he warns.
Ismail adds that it is important to label only those who have participated in terrorist activities and carried out violent acts against civilians as terrorists. Others should not be stigmatised.
He does not appear to be worried about being targeted by terrorists himself. He says he wants to make a difference.
Author: Anne Thomas
Editor: Thomas Bärthlein