Islamist Militancy in Indonesia, Part 1: Origins

12 MINS READMay 4, 2011 | 12:12 GMT
Editor's Note: This is the first installment in a two-part series on the roots of Indonesia's Islamist militancy and the endurance of the Darul Islam militant group, which has been hit hard over the years but has never disappeared. On Good Friday, April 22, shortly before services were to begin at a church in Tangerang, Indonesia, just west of Jakarta, five improvised explosive devices (IEDs) were found planted around the building. They were set to go off at 9 a.m., when the church would have been packed with people. Investigators surmised that the IEDs — two 100-kilogram (220-pound) devices and three small pipe bombs — were the work of Indonesian jihadists, members of a movement that has been significantly reduced since the 2002 Bali bombings. Fallout from the failed Good Friday plot continued on April 27, when Jakarta police, responding to a threat, searched for IEDs on the Cililitan overpass of the Jalan Tol, an inner-city highway in the eastern part of the city. The threat had come from a 32-year-old male in police custody named Pepi Fernando, a suspect in the Good Friday plot who had been arrested on April 21 in Aceh during an investigation of the March 15 book-bomb attempt in Jakarta. Pepi claims to have formed his own militant cell and that he learned how to construct explosive devices from the Internet. But it would be a mistake to assume that Pepi's cell, if it exists, is a spontaneous grassroots group. Pepi was first radicalized by Darul Islam, a six-decade-old Indonesian Islamist movement that has connections with virtually all Islamist militants in the country. He would certainly not be the first jihadist to leave Darul Islam and form his own group, but Pepi's Darul Islam connections, like those of his predecessors, probably endure. The reality today is that the Islamist networks in Indonesia are limited and the threat they pose is small, but they are not insignificant, deeply rooted as they are in Indonesia's history. Pepi's cell would be only one development in a century of conflict between the Indonesian state and proponents of an Indonesian Islamic polity.

Indonesian Independence

Islamist militancy in Indonesian traces its roots back to a group established in 1912 called Sarekat Islam, or the Islamic League, the first indigenous political party in Indonesia as well as the country's first major Islamic group. It grew from Javanese trader groups created by one of Indonesia's first nationalists, Tirto Adhi Suryo, to fend off ethnic Chinese competition. Tirto, a well-educated Javanese, worked within the Dutch colonial system. In the decade following its formation, a more hard-line religious leader named Haji Agus Salim took Sarekat Islam in a more violent direction, beginning a series of anti-Chinese riots in Kudus and Solo. Based in Central Java, this was the first example of Islamist violence in modern Indonesia, and it demonstrated the close link between Islamic and Javanese nationalism. (click here to enlarge image) Both founders of modern Indonesia's two independence movements were products of Sarekat Islam — Sukarno and Sekarmadji Maridjan Kartosuwirjo. Sukarno is well known for having left the group in 1927 to start the Islamic Nationalist Party, lead a guerrilla movement and then found the modern Republic of Indonesia. While Sukarno went the route of radical nationalism — a philosophy he called pancasila — Kartosuwirjo chose Islam. He first began to advocate an Indonesian Islamic state in 1936. After the Japanese took Indonesia from the Dutch in 1942, they supported him in creating a training camp for Islamist fighters in West Java to help control the local Dutch population. There, Kartosuwirjo would establish a militia called Hizbullah (which means "party of God" in Arabic and is not related to the Lebanese group of the same name) as an insurgent group to fight the Dutch. Although the Indonesian Hizbullah played only a small role in Indonesian history, it trained many of those who would go on to lead militant groups throughout the country as well as military officers who would become high-ranking generals. In August 1948, at the dawn of Indonesian independence, Kartosuwirjo declared a Negara Islam Indonesia (NII), or Indonesian Islamic State, within days of Sukarno and Mohamad Hatta's own declaration. Kartosuwirjo quickly withdrew his claim, but the name NII persisted, and he started a new insurgency based in West Java under the name Darul Islam (DI), or House of Islam. Between 1949 and 1953, DI gained allies in Central Java, Kalimantan, Aceh and, most important, in south Sulawesi, with a group called Tentara Islam Indonesia, under the command of Kahar Muzakkar. Kahar had previously been a brigade commander and bodyguard under Sukarno but then allied with DI in 1952. In 1958, Muzakkar also became part of the Permerintah Revolusinoer Republic Indonesia (PRRI), a revolutionary government on the islands of Sumatra and Sulawesi. The insurgency, though mostly defeated by the early 1950s, continued to simmer until the mid-1960s, after Kartosuwirjo was captured and executed in 1962 and Muzakkar was killed in 1965. However, the Darul Islam movement continues to this day, with its adherents serving as the main Islamist militant challenge to a secular Indonesian government. That both Sukarno and Kartosuwirjo came out of the same Islamic movement shows its importance in the world's most populous Muslim country. The Indonesian government has to fight violent Islamists while being careful not to anger the country's largely Muslim population, and occasionally even working with Islamist groups such as Darul Islam and Front Pembela Islam.

Darul Islam

The successful crackdown on Darul Islam and its leadership put the group into remission, then in the late 1960s it began to rebuild itself. Daud Beureaueh was nominated for leadership in 1967, one of the few insurgent leaders left who had not pledged allegiance to the Republic of Indonesia in exchange for amnesty following Kartosuwirjo's arrest. Other militants involved in DI's rebirth included Aceng Kurnia, Adah Djaelani and Danu Muhammad Hasan as well as Kartosuwirjo's sons. Danu became head of DI's military operations in West Java (the closest thing to home base for the group), but also served as an informant for Gen. Ali Moertopo, head of the Indonesian special operations unit Operasi Khusus, known as Opsus. Moertopo was one of Suharto's most-trusted men, having served with him in the 1950s. As Opsus chief and later a major figure in Bakin, the State Intelligence and Coordination Agency, Moertopo was responsible for the most controversial and secret operations under Suharto. However, Moertopo started his military career in Hizbullah, where he first came to know Danu and, ironically, was part of the Banteng Raiders, a government military unit that fought Darul Islam in the early 1950s. Moertopo's precise role in the revival of Darul Islam is debated, but it seems that DI re-emerged on its own and that Opsus successfully co-opted it. Opsus worked to turn Darul Islam into a group to combat the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI) and to bring out votes for Golkar, Suharto's political machine. This facilitated DI's rejuvenation, bringing some of its militant and ideological leaders back into the fold and redeveloping its networks across Indonesia. At the time, the state believed such a development was in its interest. But sometime over the next decade, a more militant faction known as Komando Jihad developed within DI. The group became active in 1976, with a series of failed grenade and small IED attacks against mosques and churches. Suharto's security forces quickly responded, arresting the major leaders and attack organizers before the May 1977 election (for which DI was also supposed to mobilize political support). The Islamist movement had once again become a potential danger to, rather than ally of, the Indonesian state. Then in 1979 a series of attacks known as the Warman Terror began, instigated by Musa Warman of Komando Jihad. Warman organized targeted killings of informants who helped in the arrests of other DI leaders. Warman and Komando Jihad also carried out a series of robberies to raise money for the organization. The concept of robbing nonbelievers to raise funds for jihad became a major part of the Indonesian jihadist movement in the 1970s and continues to this day. It also has become a common tactic of Islamist militant groups worldwide. Another group emerged at about the same time, possibly from DI or from the grassroots, known as the Indonesian Islamic Revolutionary Council and led by Imran bin Zein. Inspired by the Iranian Revolution, Imran began sending letters to Tehran asking for support (which he never received). In 1981 the group hijacked a Garuda DC-9 aircraft and demanded the release of Indonesian prisoners, including Abdullah Sungkar, a DI religious leader from Solo. Many blame the hijacking on Komando Jihad, but it was actually carried out by a separate faction with the same ideology, evident in the demand that leading DI members be released from prison. Throughout its history there have been many offshoots of Darul Islam, which has never been an organization with a defined command structure, nor has it ever been able to expand its support base beyond Indonesia's minority of conservative Islamists. Instead, DI has served as an umbrella group for various radicals demanding an Islamic state who are linked ideologically but not operationally. The group has suffered from within by internal debate and division over tactics for achieving an Islamic state and implementing Shariah.

Jemaah Islamiyah

In the 1980s, following the arrests of the previous decade, followers of the DI movement began using its original name again instead of Komando Jihad. This violent wing was kept alive by Ajengan Masduki, who eventually became imam of the whole movement in 1987. He brought with him two ethnic Yemeni preachers based in Central Java — Abdullah Sungkar and Abu Bakar Bashir. The two met in 1963 and eventually founded the al-Mukmin boarding school in Ngruki, a suburb of Solo, in 1972. (click here to enlarge image) Sungkar and Bashir had been outsiders to Darul Islam, with their own school and radio station contributing to the growing opposition to the Suharto government. In 1976 they met with Haji Ismail Pranoto, better known as Hispran, about joining Komando Jihad. This meeting involved the first discussion of "Jemaah Islamiyah" (JI), an innocuous name that means "Islamic community." Hispran, one of the original DI members and long-time recruiter, brought Sungkar and Bashir into the group, where both would assume leadership roles. Swept up in the arrests of the late 1970s, Sungkar and Bashir were eventually released from prison in 1982. After their release they began to promote a new DI strategy — usroh, which literally means "family" in Arabic but denotes in this context a small study group. The strategy was based on the ideas of Hassan al-Banna, founder of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. From the 1980s to the present day, both Darul Islam and Jemaah Islamiyah have broken the organization into discrete segments that maintain little if any contact with each other in order to increase operational security. The less militants know about the rest of the organization's activities, the less they can tell interrogators upon arrest. This also affords the group's leaders plausible deniability when attacks are conducted. While the strategy has not worked perfectly — many interrogated militants have exposed their associates' activities — it has prolonged the survival of both organizations. Shortly after becoming the DI imam in 1987, Masduki appointed Bashir minister of justice and Sungkar minister of foreign affairs in a sort of shadow government. The latter role in particular was becoming more important as Darul Islam began developing relationships with militants worldwide. While the group already maintained networks across Southeast Asia — Sungkar and Bashir spent much time in exile in Malaysia — it also developed relationships with a little-known Arab organization in Pakistan in 1985. Maktab al-Khidmat (MaK), or the Services Bureau, was established along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border to train foreign fighters for jihad. Sungkar sent representatives to work with MaK and facilitate training opportunities for Southeast Asian militants. The first Indonesians and Malaysians traveled to Afghanistan and Pakistan that year, and when they returned home years later they would become the most skilled and dangerous militant operatives in Southeast Asia. These were bombmakers and operational planners like Zulkarnaen (the most experienced JI operative still at large), Azahari Bin Husin and Ridhwan Isam al-Deen al-Hanbali. In 1988, Masduki, Sungkar and Bashir arranged a trip to meet with MaK, including its leaders Osama bin Laden and Abdullah Azzam, and their trainees in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The trip went well, but Masduki, unable to speak Arabic, had to have Sungkar speak for him the whole time. It was at this point that Sungkar and Bashir came in direct contact with those who would go on to lead al Qaeda. At that time, both organizations — MaK and DI – were debating who to target and what kind of Islamic state should be established. The militant leaders who would form al Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiyah wanted to attack Westerners and create a worldwide Islamic caliphate while MaK and DI were focused on overthrowing regional governments. In the early 1990s, bin Laden would create al Qaeda and take over MaK while Sungkar and Bashir — dreaming of the Daulah Islamiah Raya, an Islamic superstate including Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and parts of Philippines and Thailand — would leave DI. Sungkar, the highest ranking DI leader, began using the name Jemaah Islamiyah for a new, more hard-core militant group and proclaimed himself emir of the organization. Though Darul Islam still existed, it entered a phase of hibernation as Jemaah Islamiyah took a more violent approach to militancy in Indonesia.

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