Source Link: Stratfor
Recent announcements by the Indonesian National Police and the office of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono suggest rising challenges for Jakarta posed by hard-line Islamists. Evidence released March 23 on book bombs discovered last week links them to former members of Jemaah Islamiyah, a militant group in decline. At the same time, disparate Islamist groups in Indonesia are committing acts of violence at the local level against what they see as affronts to Islam while directly threatening Yudhoyono, who is perceived by his rivals as weak. Indeed, tensions are already beginning to simmer in preparation for Indonesia’s presidential election in 2014.
A deputy spokesman for the Indonesian National Police announced March 23 that five improvised explosive devices concealed in books and discovered March 15 and March 18 had forensic connections to bombings in 2005 in the Poso area in Central Sulawesi. This links the book bombs to the long-declining militant group Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), but other hard-line Islamists have been rearing their heads in the archipelago. Also on March 23, a presidential spokesman responded to a coup threat from an alliance of Islamist groups and retired generals by saying the administration did not view the threat as serious or an act of treason.
The reality is that Islamist militants in Indonesia now have little capability to follow through on threats to the security of the state, and the hard-line Front Pembela Islam (FPI, or Islamic Defenders Front), which has replaced JI as Indonesia’s most well-known militant Islamist group, is a vocal but not particularly popular minority taking advantage of current circumstances surrounding the Indonesian president. Currently in his last term, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is perceived as weak by his rivals and an opposition already gearing up for the 2014 presidential election.
Deterioration of Jemaah Islamiyah
The book bombs posed a danger — four were safely defused and a fifth exploded while security personnel tried to defuse it, injuring several police officers and technicians — and they were the first improvised explosive devices deployed by terrorists in Indonesia since the bombings of the JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels in Jakarta in July 2009. But the book bombs were crude devices that were unsuccessful, for the most part, because they were easy to identify. The police spokesman would not blame JI for the book bombs and would only say an “old group” was responsible, but the evidence showed links to Poso bombings conducted by JI, which is the once-dominant old militant group in Indonesia.
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Before JI came along, the violence in Poso and nearby towns in the 1990s and early 2000s was limited to knives and spears. Then, in 2004 and 2005, JI was responsible for four bombings in and near Poso: the central market in Poso in November 2004, killing six people; the Emmanuel Church in Palu in December 2004 (there were no casualties); the central market in Tentena in May 2005, killing 22; and the pork market in Palu in December 2005, killing seven. Before the hotel bombings in Jakarta in 2009 there were numerous cases of failed or leftover explosives being reused in attempted attacks by JI followers, and the book bombs discovered on March 23 are likely the latest example of that.
Whoever is responsible for the book bombs is not one of JI’s skilled bombmakers, most of whom have been captured or killed. The culprits are likely similar to a group of eight militants arrested Jan. 24 in Sukoharjo and Klaten in Central Java. Their leader was “Antok” (aka Roki Apresdianto), who was training the other militants, all under the age of 20, in the use of firearms and explosives. Antok himself was trained by known JI bombmaker “Sogir.” The group had tested some very small devices in Central Java in December, which probably led to their capture. It is likely that the maker of the book bombs was trained by another JI bombmaker or perhaps an even less-experienced tutor, since there is not much left of JI.
Nevertheless, in his opening address during the Jakarta International Defense Dialogue in Jakarta on March 22, President Yudhoyono emphasized the militant threat, saying, “We are also seeing persistent acts of terrorism, and the growing capacity of terrorist groups to mutate, adapt and present us with new challenges — such as the [book] bombs in Indonesia.” While it is true that Indonesian militants have not been entirely eliminated, their capabilities are severely limited, and their mutation is actually a devolution from groups capable of major hotel and nightclub bombings. Fears are now focused on various other radical Islamist groups that are generally aligned in wanting to establish Shariah in Indonesia and groups of thugs bent on attacking “apostates” for affronts to Islam.
Front Pembela Islam
And then there are the retired generals. Indonesia’s most well-known Islamist group, FPI, recently was the subject of a March 22 Al Jazeera report linking its threats to overthrow Yudhoyono in a coup to support from former generals in Indonesia’s armed forces. The Al Jazeera report features an on-camera interview with retired Gen. Tyasno Sudarto, who said he supported the activities of hard-line Islamist groups. Tyasno was the army chief of staff in 1999 and 2000 and was rumored to have ordered Indonesia’s Intelligence Agency of the Armed Forces to support militants in East Timor who staged attacks against locals who voted for independence in 1999. The Al Jazeera report also features Chep Hernawan, leader of the Islamic Reform Movement, another radical Islamist group, who referred to an alliance with unnamed retired generals. The Al Jazeera report confirms rumors, reported previously by STRATFOR sources, that former generals had been supporting Islamist activities in Indonesia.
The spotlight was first shed on these Islamists groups following two violent attacks in Java, believed to have been orchestrated by FPI. On Feb. 6, a large mob attacked Ahmadiyah followers (seen as an apostate sect of Islam) in Pandeglang, and on Feb. 8 another mob attacked and burned Christian churches in Temanggung. FPI is capable of fielding large mobs of young machete-wielding, stone-throwing supporters, often gathered under different group names, to attack or protest against anything FPI considers an affront to Islam, including pornography, alcohol and other religious groups. Soon after the violence in Java, FPI chairman Habib Riziq threatened to overthrow the government in a coup and demanded that Ahmadiyah was outlawed. Since the Al Jazeera broadcast, reports have indicated that this alliance documented a new government in preparation for a coup that includes Riziq as president, Abu Jibril, a senior member of the Indonesian Mujahideen Council, as vice president and Sudarto in a senior Cabinet position.
A Weakening Government
But the general population of Indonesia, while opposing Ahmadiyah followers and even supporting a ban against the group, does not support hard-line Islamist groups. This is why JI has always had trouble recruiting followers and why FPI’s posturing is being ignored as empty threats. Nevertheless, the posturing is a sign of greater instability to come on the local level. While it is too early to say, these events could be a prelude to the kind of ethnic violence seen in Ambon and Poso since 1999 and the militia violence under Suharto’s rule from 1965 to 1998.
With Yudhoyono in his final term as president, the 2014 election will be the first time since the fall of Suharto in 1998 that there has not been a clear candidate or incumbent for president in Indonesia. Even though Megawati Sukarnoputri lost in 2004, having clear incumbents created a level of stability in Indonesia’s young democracy. The Indonesian military has long used various groups of thugs to enforce its interests, and the alliance between retired generals and Islamist militants is consistent with this tradition. In fact, according to STRATFOR sources, the new national chief of police, Gen. Timur Pradopo, is believed to have strong ties to FPI, which our sources say was originally created with a “wink and nod” by the police as a militia to help protect parliament.
Now, various power brokers are all pushing to oppose Yudhoyono, who has done nothing to counter FPI. He is afraid of being portrayed as against Islam, and the FPI’s connections to the police make a crackdown difficult. This situation will only get more complicated, according to STRATFOR sources, as various members of the Yudhoyono governing coalition leave to oppose him in preparation for their presidential runs.
Militant Islamists in Indonesia are still weak, but the growing influence of groups opposed to Ahmadiyah and Christian interests are a sign of a weakening government. Uncertainty surrounding the 2014 election increases the chance of communal violence if Yudhoyono does not move to stop it, but it will not offer an existential threat to the government itself.