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Al Qaeda's Southeast Asia, Jamaah Islamiyah and Regional Terrorism: Kinship and Family Links  アルカイダの東南アジア、ジャマー・イスラミヤー、および地域テロ−−王建と家族的つながり

January 2, 2007
Volume 5 | Issue 1
Article ID 2318

Al Qaeda’s Southeast Asia, Jamaah Islamiyah and Regional Terrorism:
Kinship and Family Links

By Noor Huda Ismail 

There is no nobler life than to die as a martyr for jihad. None. The highest deed in Islam is Jihad. If we commit to Jihad, we can neglect other deeds, even fasting and prayer. (Abu Bakar Ba’asyir, Spiritual leader of Jamaah Islamiyah)[1]

What role, if any, does kinship play in the ability of Indonesia's Jamaah Islamiyah (JI) to rejuvenate itself? I aim to show how conceptions of kinship have important ramifications for the ways these and other jihadists establish political authority among their recruits and capitalise on the perceived grievances suffered by Muslims world wide to galvanise the anger among marginalised young Muslims. Although kinship is the most arcane aspect of anthropological study, we need to understand it, if we are to analyse elements of society, like those of jihadists, who conceive of their organisations in terms of blood relationships and ties of affinity. In this context, it is essential to establish the importance of blood relations and parenthood, rather than simply looking at the more general rituals of kinship, such as ‘spiritual kinship’ in Christian societies (Parkin, 1997: 124).

Al-Qaeda based centers

Indeed parental and sibling kin terms are often used among recruits, trainers and leaders. In addition, recruits are typically separated from kin and community to train in secret, isolated camps where uniforms and other markers of phenotypic similarity are common. For example, among the ‘Children of the Iman’ in the 1980s Iran, young boys and girls were selected for martyrdom and sent to isolated camps for training. They ‘no longer belonged(ed) to their respective families’ but were sisters and children of the Ayatollah (Taheri, 1987: 91). The same pattern can be seen among recruits to Al Qaeda, where kinship imagery is particularly pronounced: Osama bin Laden is known as the ‘elder brother’ and recruits are placed in ‘families’ during training and deployment (Gunaratna, 2002: 96). In short, kinship is not merely a logical apparatus consisting of complicated rules, terminology and marriage; but rather a way of understanding and constructing the world, replete with implications for the evolution and organisation of political life (Lindholm, 1986: 334).

Osama bin Laden

JI as a case study offers several examples that highlight the complexity of kinship links in terrorism, such as relationships between two or more male siblings, between in-laws, between fathers and sons, as well as more distant kinship relations.

Roots of Al Qaeda’s Southeast Asia, the Jamaah Islamiyah

Before going into more detail on the pattern of kinship, it is important to look at the root of JI so that one can understand that radicalisation among Muslims is not something alien and new in Indonesia’s history that started from its independence on August 17, 1945. JI’s roots go back to Darul Islam (DI), the name of an Indonesian organisation whose aim has been to turn the country into a state ruled by Islamic law, shariah.[2] Derived from the Arabic words Dar Al Islam, the term literally translates as ‘the abode of Islam’ or ‘house of Islam’ – a reference to the Medina community founded by prophet Muhammed. Over more than five decades, Darul Islam (DI) has spawned many offshoots and splinters that committed violent acts in the name of jihad. In fact, it is impossible to have a clear and comprehensive understanding of all jihadist movements in Indonesia without looking at the dynamic and complicated development of DI.

Various incarnations of the group have been involved in rebellions since the mid-20th century. Sekarmadji Maridjan Kartosuwirjo started an indigenous Islamic rebellion on 7 August 1949 – just when Indonesia was gaining independence from Dutch colonial rule. Disappointed with the newly formed Indonesian Republic headed by Soekarno, Kartosuwirjo proclaimed his own Indonesian Islamic State (NII) [3] in opposition to Jakarta's central government. Areas of West Java under NII control were called Darul Islam.’ An estimated 15,000 to 20,000 people died during the ensuing thirteen-year rebellion, which was finally crushed in 1962. Kartosuwirjo was captured and executed by firing squad. But that was far from the end of DI.

Head of Jamaah Islamiyah  

After the overthrow of the Soekarno regime, the fortunes of Darul Islam turned. Virulently opposed to ‘the godless’ Communists, DI veterans played a strong role in the fight against communism, from the mid-1960s through the 1980s. All Islamic organisations, including DI, enthusiastically backed the CIA-orchestrated coup (from 1965 to 1966) that installed the Soeharto dictatorship and resulted in the massacre of an estimated 500,000 Communist Party members, workers, and sympathisers. When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1980, Darul Islam sent 360 [4] members to help the Afghan mujahideen.[5] Among jihadsts who came to Afghan in that period was Osama bin Laden and thousands of other jihadists worldwide. In Pakistan and Afghanistan DI members came into contact with Sheikh Abdullah Yussuf Azzam[6], who was the key to establishing what the International Legion of Islam is today (Bodansky, 1999: 10). Bin Laden’s role was to transmit Saudi money – not just his own. By the late 1980s, there were branches and recruitment centres in some fifty countries, including the United States, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and several western European countries. This provided an opportunity for establishing invaluable contacts with numerous Islamist leaders worldwide, a scheme which proved to be of crucial importance years later. After the war, there was an empowering confidence that was founded in the belief that Islam alone had defeated the Soviets. With the murder of Azzam in 1989, the veteran ‘Afghans’ increasingly looked to bin Laden as an arbiter between their original organisation and often competing movements.[7]

Following the loss of Al Qaeda’s main Afghan base in October 2001, the movement sought alternative venues in which to train and regroup. Indeed, there are believed to be Al Qaeda cells in over seventy countries, and evidently this has increased the group’s flexibility and allowed for effective strategising. Among the groups in the Al Qaeda coalition, virtually all of which are still active today, are the Islamic Group and Al Jihad (Egypt), the Armed Islamic Group and the Salafist Group for Call and Combat (Algeria), the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), the Jamaah Islamiyah (Indonesia), the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (Libyan opposition), and Harakut ul-Mujahedin (Pakistan, Kashmiri) (Katzman, 2005: 3).

In contrast to the former centralised ‘command and control’ procedures, Al Qaeda is now more similar to a franchise, with individual factions overseeing operations and conduct with relative autonomy. Al Qaeda, therefore, deliberately has no single modus operandi, which makes it all the more formidable. Instead, bin Laden has built a movement that actively encourages subsidiary groups fighting under its banner to mix and match approaches, employing different tactics and varying means of attack and operational styles, in a number of locales (Hoffman, 2004: 33). Thus, the design may appear acephalous (headless), and at other times polycephalous (hydra-headed) (Arquilla, Ronfeldt and Zanini, 1999: 51). With strong links to al Qaeda through personal relationships with veterans of the mujahideen in Afghanistan, JI is now recognised as a serious threat to stability in Southeast Asia. Though most cells maintain operational autonomy, they are part of the overarching network. There are also claims that Malaysia, despite the best efforts of its security agencies, has been the launching pad for a number of recent Al Qaeda-linked terrorist attacks (or planned attacks,) such as that on the USS Cole, Operation Bojinka,[8] and those in Singapore[9] and on 11 September 2001 (Gunaratna, 2002: 93-4).

The JI was founded in Malaysia on 1 January 1993 by Abdullah Sungkar who was there in exile from Indonesia with Abu Bakar Ba’asyir (Conboy, 2005: 34). They were good friends and worked in tandem in their Islamic activities, starting with moderate activities by da’wa (Islamic propagation) to resist Suharto’s anti-Muslim crackdown, which turned Islamists against him. First, Ba’asyir and Sungkar founded Radio Dakwah Islamiyah Surakarta[10] (the Islamic Propagation Radio of Surakarta or Radis). They together used this radio station to broadcast anti-government propaganda and criticise the political situation where. Their statements were relatively tame. For example, they said that saluting the Indonesian flag is a violation of Muslim beliefs. More provocative were Sungkar’s calls to disregard the country’s constitution and refuse to pay taxes.

By 1995, Sungkar no longer set his sights on merely implementing Islamic rule in Indonesia. Rather, he began contemplating a regional Islamic super-state (Daulah Islamiah Raya) that would encompass Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and parts of the Philippines and Thailand. According to Sungkar, Muslims in Southeast Asia represented a formidable bloc: almost 270 million people, exporting more than US$330 billion per annum and producing a significant part of the world’s oil (BIN, 2001: 7). Also, he had rubbed shoulders with likeminded radicals from across Asia for the past decade, especially in Afghanistan.[11]

With this broadened goal, Sungkar looked to make a clean break from Darul Islam by adopting a different organisational framework. Taking a page from the seventies, by 1995 he had resurrected the group under the new name Jamaah Islamiyah (Islamic Community).[12] But unlike the earlier manifestation – when there had been debate as to whether it was a tangible group or merely a collection of like-minded radicals – this time JI had organisational substance with defined positions. Sungkar himself said as much in an interview with the Sydney-based Islamic magazine Nida'ul Ivlam (Call of Islam), stating that his group’s aims were to ‘establish the supremacy of Islam [in Indonesia] by the strategies of preaching, strategic evasion, and Jihad’ (Nida’ul Islam, 1997). To that end, Sungkar contended that the Islamic community had to build up three strengths: quwwatul aqidah (strength of faith), quwwatul ukhuwwah (strength of brotherhood) and quwwatul musallahah (military strength) (Nida’ul Islam, 1997).

Patterns of Kinship in Jamaah Islamiyah

The following sections examine the different roles that kinship may play in terrorist activities, including the importance of kinship for keeping the network secure from infiltration.

Sibling Relationships

The use of sibling relationships in jihadi recruitment is meant to provide further ideological support for the recruits that extend beyond the group itself. Sometimes two or more brothers are recruited for jihad, helping each other during an operation and providing inspiration and reassurance. This particular type of recruitment makes effective use of kinship to ensure deeper engagement with the cause and group.

One example of such sibling kinship in terrorism is the family of Achmad Kandai. In the 1950s, he belonged to the hard-core movement Darul Islam, which tried to assassinate Indonesian President Soekarno in 1957. Nasir, a brother of Kandai, worked with Abdullah Sungkar and Abubakar Ba'asyir, two successive spiritual heads of JI in Malaysia in the 1980s and 1990s. Kandai's sons Farihin bin Ahmad, Abdul Jabar, Mohammed Islam and Solahudin all became jihadists. In August 2000, Ahmad and Jabar participated in the attack on the Philippine ambassador's Jakarta residence that killed two people and injured 22 others, including Ambassador Leonides Caday.[13] Mohammed Islam, the third brother, became involved in several bombings during the religious conflict in Poso in Central Sulawesi where violence between Muslims and Christians led to hundreds of deaths on both sides between late 1998 and 2002 (intermittent violence continues to this day).[14] The fourth brother, Solahudin, was among those arrested in the 29 April 2006 raid in Wonosobo, Central Java. He is now under police interrogation for his involvement in a series of terrorist attacks, including the bombing of the Atrium shopping mall in August 2001. In this attack, the bomber lost his leg and was arrested after the bomb he was carrying blew up prematurely.[15]

The complex kinship relations found in terrorism, illustrated by the Kandai family, are not an anomaly in JI. The al-Ghozi family is another jihadi family. Faturrahman al-Ghozi, who was shot and killed by the Philippine police in 2003, was one of JI's main bomb-makers. Among other actions, he was the perpetrator of the devastating Risal Day bombing in Manila in 2000 that killed 12 people and wounded 19 others.[16] Al-Ghozi's father was a Darul Islam member who was jailed during the Soeharto era. A younger brother, Ahmad Rofiq Ridho, is now standing trial on several charges including sheltering the Malaysian JI member Noordin Mohammed Top. Last year, Ridho set a precedent for JI by marrying his brother's widow in a ceremony in a Jakarta police detention facility.[17] Gempur Angkoro (alias Jabir) is al-Ghozi's cousin and was one of Top's most trusted men. He, too, was killed in the 29 April 2006 raid. Jabir assembled the bombs used in the deadly attacks in Jakarta at the Australian Embassy in 2004 and the JW Marriott hotel in 2003.[18]

The first Bali bombing introduced three brothers to the outside world: Ali Ghufron (Mukhlas), Amrozi and Ali Imron. The first two are now on death row. Ali Ghufron was in charge of overall supervision of the bombing. Amrozi procured the chemicals and vehicles needed for the attack, while the third brother coordinated transport of the bomb.[19] Another set of brothers, Herlambang and Hernianto, were also involved. Hernianto later died in prison, allegedly of a kidney ailment. Hambali (alias Riduan Isamuddin) and Rusman Gunawan (alias Gun Gun), are another set of JI brothers. Hambali, now in US detention, was JI's liaison with al-Qaeda. Gun Gun was involved in the Marriott hotel bombing in 2003. He attended university in Pakistan and from late 2002 took over as the intermediary for e-mail messages between al-Qaeda and Hambali, who was then hiding in Cambodia.[20] There was also a set of JI brothers in Singapore, Faiz and Fatihi bin Abu Bakar Bafana. Faiz was treasurer of the first JI regional division, Mantiqi 1, which provided the finances for JI operations). Faiz has admitted to receiving funds from Osama bin Laden via Hambali. Fatihi carried out reconnaissance against Western targets in Singapore.[21] Mantiqi 1 was initially led by Hambali and subsequently replaced by Ali Ghufron (Mukhlas) in 2001.[22] 

In-Law Relationships 

Kinship ties also include in-laws. Ali Ghufron married Farida, younger sister of Nasir bin Abas, a Malaysian who once served as Mantiqi 3 chairman. Nasir, who abandoned the JI cause and wrote a book entitled Exposing Jemaah Islamiya, was sufficiently loyal to his brother-in-law to write that he had been the best possible husband for his sister. Another JI member, Syamsul Bahri, is another of Nasir's brothers-in-law (International Crisis Group, 2003). Taufiq Abdul Halim, the Malaysian who lost part of his leg in the Atrium bombing, is the brother-in-law of Zulkifli Hir, a leader of a Malaysian jihadi group, which was responsible for a series of crimes including the assassination of Joe Fernandez, a Christian member of parliament (Singapore. Minister of Home Affairs, 2003). Another example is Datuk Rajo Ameh, who participated in the Christmas Eve bombing in 2000 among other attacks. He is the father-in-law of JI member Joni Hendrawan, who was involved in the first Bali bombing and the 2003 Marriott attack.[23] Mohammad Rais, another Marriott figure, is the brother-in-law of Top. Rais recruited a suicide bomber for the Marriott bombing.[24]

Fathers and Sons 

Anxious for their offsprings' safety and with an eye to regenerating JI, senior members sent their children to study in Karachi, where they formed the so-called al-Ghuraba (the foreigners) cell. During university break, some members of the group went to Afghanistan for a course in urban warfare. Six of them traveled to Pakistan-controlled parts of Kashmir where Lashkar-e-Toiba, a guerrilla movement affiliated with al-Qaeda, gave them a month of physical and military training. Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency discovered the group in September 2003 (Conboy, 2005). Abdul Rohim, Abubakar Ba'asyir's son, was the cell leader.[25] One of its members was Abu Dzar - his father is a long-time associate of Hambali and two of his uncles are JI members. Abu Dzar's uncle, Muhamad Ismail Anwarul, who drove a taxi in Singapore, would later attend an al-Qaeda training camp in Kandahar during 2001. His sister had recently married Masran bin Arshad, the leader of Khalid Sheikh Mohammad's alleged suicide cell. Another cell member was the Malaysian Muhammad Ikhwan, whose father, Abdullah Daud, attended an al-Qaeda surveillance course in Kabul in 2000. Ikhwan's older sister married another JI member. Likewise, the father of Singaporean student Mohammad Riza was sent by JI's Mantiqi 1 for military training in Mindanao.

Arranged Marriages

Establishing arranged marriages between members of JI families was the ideal way to forge permanent alliances for the organisation. These marriages were meant to keep the JI organisation close-knit. JI spiritual leaders could play the roles of both matchmaker and marriage celebrant. It is suggested that those who feel ready to get married go to their ustadz (religious teacher) to tell him of their intentions. Usually an ustadz will give his wife(wives) the task of finding a girl ready for marriage. Through the mediation of the ustadz and his wife, a meeting between future bride and bridegroom is arranged. At that meeting the prospective bride is allowed to see the face of her would-be-bridegroom in the presence of their mediators.[26]

Abdullah Sungkar married two of his stepdaughters to senior jihadis — Ferial Muchlis bin Abdul Halim, a head of the Selangor JI cell, and Syawal Yassin, a prominent South Sulawesi figure and former military trainer in Afghanistan. Sungkar had been the celebrant at the 1984 marriage of future Mantiqi 4 leader Abdul Rohim Ayub and the Australian Rabiyah (International Crisis Group, 2003). Haris Fadillah is a Darul Islam militia leader who fought and died in communal religious conflict in Ambon, Maluku, where thousands of Muslims and Christians lost their lives, and many villages and places of worship were destroyed. He arranged the marriage of his daughter, Mira Augustina, to Indonesia-based al-Qaeda operative Omar al-Faruq. Following her husband's arrest in June 2002, Mira acknowledged that she had married al-Faruq the day she met him.[27]

In the same vein, Jack Thomas, an Australian jihadi, married an Indonesian, Maryati, in South Africa on the recommendation of his JI friends. Thomas, who adopted the name ‘Jihad,’ likewise married his wife the day he met her. A Singapore jihadi called Jauhari testified in court that the Indonesian preacher Abu Jibril had helped choose his wife and that Abdullah Sungkar had married them at Abu Jibril's house (International Crisis Group, 2003). As for Hambali, he married a part-Chinese woman, Noralwizah Lee, who converted to Islam. Like male JI members, Lee used several aliases and was active in recruiting women to the cause. The couple first met at a function held by one of the women's groups under Abdullah Sungkar's auspices. The author established in interviews with one of the participating lecturers that one topic offered was ‘Women and Jihad.’[28] Lee shared Hambali's fate by being arrested in Thailand with him in August 2003. Noordin Mohammed Top found time to take a second wife; he was still married to Mohammad Rais’s sister from Riau. Noordin heard about Munfiatun al-Fitri, a young woman who had expressed interest in marrying a mujahid-a warrior for Islam. The marriage was arranged by Surabaya JI members, Abu Fida in 2004. Like Ali Ghufron's wife, Munfiatun is well educated and graduated in agriculture at East Java's Brawijaya University. [29]

Kinship and Individual Engagement in Terrorism

In my interviews with terrorists identified above, I came to the conclusion that terrorists are ordinary people who make choices in the contexts in which they find themselves. There is much evidence and diverse examples of this. There seem to be no discernible pathological qualities of terrorists that identify them in any clinical sense as different from others in the community from which they come (Taylor and Quayle, 1994: 13). It is true that the world struggled in shock to comprehend Amrozi’s reaction upon hearing his sentence. Amrozi is one of several jihadists convicted of the October 2002 Bali bombing. In court, Amrozi smiled broadly and raised his two thumbs in approval at the judge’s decision to impose the death penalty. The image from the Bali courtroom of a smiling Amrozi will remain etched in many people’s mind.[30] Therefore, one of the greatest challenges when thinking about terrorists and terrorism is that, while it is possible to identify potentially broad predisposing factors in terms of educational attainment, income levels, and other potential causes (Testas, 2004: 252-273), even where these qualities of experience are highly correlated, one individual embarks on terrorism and another does not (discussed at length by Horgan).[31]

Interviews in the field also demonstrate that the engagement of these people in religious clandestine movements, like JI, was preceded by their association with the Darul Islam movement. Cult-like behaviour may be more prevalent among ideologically driven terrorist organisations than grievance-driven behaviour (which is more thoroughly enmeshed in the local community that sustains them) (Qirko, 2004). To ensure returns, organisational indoctrinators lead recruits through an escalating series of commitments and enticements ranging from initial encouragement of petty crime (Silke, 2003: 35), to lures of Paradise, to the ‘living martyr’s final statement whose retraction would make life unbearably humiliating (Merari, 2000). This movement has the characteristic of a strict religious organisation, demanding complete loyalty, unwavering belief, and rigid adherents. It can be understood as a sect, defined by Laurance R Iannaccone as ‘a religious organization with a high commitment, voluntary and converted membership, a separatist orientation, an exclusive social structure, a spirit of orientation, and attitude of ethical austerity and demanding asceticism’.[32] Iannoccone underscores the significance of social ties in determining one’s engagement in a strict religious movement. He argues that people who lack extensive social ties to friends and family outside the sect are more likely to join (or remain active) and are even more likely to join if they have friends or family within the sect. On the other hand, those who have extensive social ties are less likely to join the sect. He emphasises that a potential member’s social ties predict conversion far more accurately than his or her psychological profile (Iannaccone, 1994: 1200-1).

The choice to become a terrorist or engage in terrorist activities is a gradual process with many routes. Triggering events such as police brutality, massacres or some other significantly provocative events, increase the likelihood that people will become involved in terrorist activity. Thinking about terrorism as a process of course reflects its complexity, but thinking in this way can also help us to draw better policy recommendations. This can be seen in the case of Ahmad Rofiq Ridho, a JI member based in Solo, Central Java and the younger brother of Fathurrahman al-Ghozi. In an interview with the author in December 2005, he described in great detail how his involvement in jihadi activities affected him and his family:

Honestly, I do not have any personal inclination to Jihad activities. I used to keep my hair long. I just love to hang out with friends and sometimes to race with motorcycle. (Laughs) I gained my first jihadi experiences in 2000 in Ambon [there was a communal conflict between Muslims and Christians in this area]. My brother recruited me to help my Muslim brothers in Ambon confronting attacks from a Christian group of Red RMS for nine months. I went there as a humanitarian activity of KOMPAK [JI financial section]. When I was arrested last year (2005), my mother told me not to worry about my arrest. She said that it is not new in our family. ‘I was in gaol when your sister was a baby’ my mother told me. I am very proud of my late brother and I want to be like him; to die as a martyr. He is my hero. He is not a terrorist. He is an Islamic defender. America and Israel are terrorists! To respect him, I married his wife last month. I am very lucky to be born into a jihadi family.’[33]

As of November 2006, Ridho is on trial for surveying possible bombing targets, including a Christian school in East Java. His late father was arrested during the Soeharto regime for involvement in the Jihad Command movement. After his release, Ridho's father became a member of a local legislative council in East Java. Ridho belonged to an Islamic charity called Kompak, which made videos documenting alleged atrocities against Muslims in Poso, Central Sulawesi, and in Ambon, Maluku. A number of features of this account suggest the following qualities:

1. Encouragement from Ridho’s brother to participate in jihadi activities in the conflict area can be perceived as a catalyst for his involvement with JI. As previously noted two or more brothers are recruited for jihad in order to help each other during operations and provide each other with inspiration and reassurance. This particular type of recruitment effectively uses kinship to ensure deeper engagement with a terrorist cause or group.

2. There appears to be a deep sense of personal morality and identification with his brother’s role as mujahid-Islamic warrior - and those victimised in the communal conflict in Ambon. He justified involvement and engagement in terrorism as a defensive reaction. He sees it as his duty to take up arms in defence of his ‘brothers’ as part of collective identity as a good Muslim.

3. Being a syaheed-martyr is one of the lures that can increase engagement in terrorist activity. Initial involvement in terrorism may develop through a series of incremental steps. As Horgan contends, the tendency to think about involvement in terrorism as determined by the drama of particular terrorist events obscures incremental process.[34]

This case also offers a broad platform for understanding, in social learning terms, and is less susceptible to the drawbacks of individual deviance theories. Hundaine, for example, describes the incremental process through which youngsters become committed insiders of counter-culture youth groups (Hundaine, 2003: 107-127). She suggests the idea of a ‘Community of Practice’ as an informal social learning environment. This environment provides the individuals involved the opportunity to exchange views with other members thus developing tacit knowledge into conversations that facilitate the transformation. ‘Over time,’ she asserts, ‘this collective learning results in practices that reflect both the pursuit of our enterprises and the attendant social relations’.


As this article demonstrates, once inside the group, JI members tend to cement ideological and other bonds by marrying the sisters, daughters and widows of their comrades-in-arms. This is a tool utilised for recruitment and for further engagement in the JI cause, thus limiting disengagement options for JI members and blocking effective counter-terrorism tactics. As evidenced throughout this work, kinship bonds make defection from JI difficult by imposing a belief that defection is tantamount to betraying one’s own family. Furthermore, these close ties of kinship maintain a system that is nearly impenetrable to outsiders such as security services aiming to disrupt terrorist organisations.

The challenge of the JI phenomenon is an ideological one. Like other governments, the Indonesian government can use security and law enforcement measures to contain the perceived threat. However, if the challenge posed by the ideological radicalism underlying the belief systems of these individuals is not countered with an effective response, there is no guarantee of preventing the formation of another generation of JI recruits. JI’s concept of Jihad as violent struggle and an obligation for all Muslims to pursue, their rejection of the secular state and their personal allegiances to Al Qaeda and their belief that terrorism is a legitimate means in pursuit of the larger cause of defending Muslims and Islam constitute a direct challenge to the Indonesian government and Muslim leaders. The spread of Al Qaeda’s brand of radical ideology can only be neutralised through a combination of effective public policy, education and dialogue.

To prevent the spread of ideas such as Imam Samudra’s, it is critical to de-legitimise leaders - not simply arrest or kill them. The ideas of these leaders are often enormously influential and their positions are symbolically important and inextricably connected to the organisation’s very existence. Therefore, the public diplomacy campaign to discredit these ideas is as, or even more important, than actual arrest or death as in the case of Samudra. Understanding the dynamic of the ideas of the group together with its arrangement of psychological and cultural relationships that are attracting and forging dozens, possibly hundreds, of mostly ordinary people into the terrorist organisation is crucial. To do that, the Indonesian government may be able to learn from Yemen’s Committee for Dialogue (Taarnby, 2005). The committee was established in August 2002, when Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Salih summoned five senior clerics who subsequently formed its nucleus. The clerics who approached the jihadist detainees insisted that the dialogue would centre on the interpretation of the Holy Scriptures. If the detainee could persuade the clerics of the legitimacy of their jihad, they would join them. If not, the detainees would have to give up the idea of armed struggle. This effort demands patience and there is no magic bullet to solve terrorism problem.

Many involved in terrorist networks went to the same mosque and school, or participated in the same military training, either in local areas or abroad (such as in Afghanistan or in Moro Islamic Liberation Front camps). The personal bonds established there are almost certainly more important than ideology or money in facilitating partnerships among jihad groups. Previous informal membership in action-oriented groups such as soccer or cricket may facilitate the passage from radicalisation into jihad and onto joining suicide attack teams. Democratic reforms – especially an impartial, credible legal system, a neutral and competent law enforcement agency, and better access to justice – remain absolutely essential to preventing the kind of vigilantism that radical groups can manipulate.

For the international community the real challenge is, therefore, not to counter specific terrorist groups but to conceive of dependable, effective measures of prevention to preempt individuals from engaging in a terror campaign because of an imagined connection with other people’s struggle and suffering (Volpi, 2003: 17). These ‘emotional’ connections constitute one elusive and enduring legacy of events such as the Algerian civil conflict, the Palestinian struggle, the Gulf, Iraq, and Afghan wars, the Southern Thailand insurgency and the Moro liberation movement. (Roy, 2004: 340).

Noor Huda Ismail is a former special correspondent for the Washington Post's Jakarta bureau and research analyst at the Institute of Defense and Security Studies Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. He is presently a British Chevening scholar undertaking postgraduate program on International Security Studies at St. Andrews University, UK. Noor Huda Ismail wrote this article for Japan Focus. Posted on January 8, 2007.


[1] Interviewed in Jakarta Prison, 2005.

[2] For further information on this rebellion, see Horikoshi (1975: 59-89) and Van Dijk (1981).

[3] For an overview of NII movement, see Santoso (1996: Appendix 3).

[4] Interview with one of Darul Islam leaders, Gaos Taufiq in Medan, South Sumatra, 2005.

[5] An interview with Gaos Taufiq, a Darul Islam leader in November 2006, revealed that the invitation to come to Afghanistan came from Abdullah Azzam who gave a sermon in Mecca in the early 80ies. An Indonesian jihadist who heard Azzam’s sermon promised him that he would get more recruits in Indonesia. This jihadist contacted the Indonesian Moslem Youth Movement and some elements of Darul Islam.

[6] In Azzam’s seminal book, Ilhaq bil Hafilah (English translation - Join the Caravan, 2001), he states that Jihad comes just after Iman (faith), which makes it a pillar of Islam, but maintains there is a difference between ‘offensive’ Jihad which is kifaya (collective), and ‘defensive’ Jihad, which is ayn (compulsory for individuals).

[7] Interviews conducted by the author in 2003 with Ali Ghufron (alias Mukhlas), the field commander of Bali bombs in Bali prison. Muklas claimed that he fought with bin Laden in Jaji in 1987 during the sacred month of Ramadan. Many of the founding fathers of Al Qaeda participated in the battle, including Enaam Arnaut, a Syrian-born US citizen; Ayman al-Zawahiri; Abu Zaubair Al Madani, who was killed in Bosnia in 1992; and the Saudi Abu Abdurrahman (alias Hassan as-Sarehi).

[8] Oplan Bojinka, a plan to assassinate the pope and then-US President Bill Clinton in Manila, and to blow up eleven airplanes over the Pacific in early 1995. The plan included hijacking planes and crashing a plane into the CIA. The specifics have been much debated. See Peter Lance’s Triple Cross. This later became the blueprint for 9/11. As a practice run, they exploded a bomb on a Philippines Airlines flight to Tokyo in December 1994. Oplan Bojinka never materialised because the chemicals to be used exploded prematurely, leading to the arrest of one of the plotters.

[9] Singapore JI member, Khalid Jaffar, told of plans to attack US interests in Singapore and included surveillance of the Yishun Mass Rapid Transport station, frequented by US military personnel. After viewing the video, al Qaeda leaders instructed JI to procure explosives and recruit men for the attack. For unknown reasons, the attack never occurred.

[10] The city has two commonly-used names – Solo, the name used prior to the town becoming a court city and Surakarta, the name adopted when the court moved from Kartasura in the mid-eighteenth century.

[11] Sungkar traveled to Pakistan and the Afghan border region in the early 1990s where he met bin Laden and other senior Al Qaeda members. The author obtained a letter signed by both Sungkar and Ba’asyir saying that they can assist other Islamic leaders in Indonesia to meet bin Laden directly.

[12] According to Bafana, Sungkar initially named the organization Jamiatul Minal Muslimin (spelling variant, Jemaah Minal Mulimin), though it soon became commonly known as Jemaah Islamiyah (spelling variant, Jamaah Islamiyah). ‘Surat Pernyataan: Faiz bin Abu Bakar Bafana,’ p. 3.

[13] Washington Diplomat, 1 August 2000.

[14] Nasir Abas was head of Mantiqi 3, one of JI's strategic area divisions, which covered the geographical region of the Philippines and Sulawesi. He was responsible for military training and arms supplies. In interviews in 2005 Nasir Abas said that Poso had the potential to develop into a qoidah aminah, a secure area where residents can live by Islamic principles and law. In their view, such a base could then serve as the building block of an Islamic state and a focus for religious outreach and recruitment.

[15] Interview with Farihin bin Ahmad in Jakarta, 2005.

[16] Inquirer News Service, 8 July 2003.

[17] Interview with Ahmad Rofiq Ridho in Jakarta prison, 2005

[18] Jakarta Post, 2 May 2006.

[19] Interview with Ali Imron in Jakarta prison, 2005.

[20] Interview with Ali Imron in Jakarta prison, 2005.

[21] Interview with Ali Imron in Jakarta prison, 2005.

[22] Interview with Rusman Gunawan in Jakarta prison, 2005.

[23] Interview with Joni Hendrawan in Jakarta prison, 2005.

[24] Interview with Muhammad Rais in Jakarta prison, 2005.

[25] Interview with Abdur Rahim in Solo, Central Java, 2004.

[26] Interview with Farihin, 2005.

[27] Interview with Mira Agustina in Bogor, West Java, 2004.

[28] Interview with Muyazin in Solo, 2004.

[29] Jakarta Post, 8 March 8, 2006

[30] I was in that court covering the story for the Washington Post.

[31] See J Horgan, especially chapter 4 ‘Becoming a Terrorist’.

[32] Iannaccone (1994). For comparison see also Stark and Bainbridge (1985) and Robbins (1988).

[33] Interview with Ahmad Rofiq Rido in Jakarta police detention in December 2005.

[34] J Horgan, p 95.