bridging without prejudice

Noor Huda Ismail

Noor Huda Ismail is currently Vice President of Sekurindo Global Consulting, a security consulting division of PT Sekurindo Gada Patria, which is based in Jakarta, Indonesia. Previously he worked as special correspondent for the Washington Post's Jakarta bureau from 2003-2004. He was also a research analyst at the Institute of Defense and Security Studies Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, in 2005. He holds a masters degree in International Security Studies from St. Andrews University, UK. The study was fully sponsored by the British Chevening Awards.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Mainstream JI is crippled but terrorists just keep on coming

The arrest of JI leaders in 2007 is quite significant, but it should not be exaggerated. One must not forget that there are senior JI leaders who are still at large including the leader of JI’s Malaysian violent faction, Noordin Top; JI’s military commander, Zulkarnaen; the electronic and bomb-making specialist, Dulmatin; and the recruitment expert, Umar Patek who sought sanctuary in the Philippines’ Abu Sayaf Group.

We must understand that JI is not a static terrorist organization; it is a social organization that conducts economic, public relations and social outreach activities. The JI members are self-contained since they trade among each other through various means of business activities, such as multi-level marketing in herbal products, plantations and other commodities. The continual arrest of JI members suggest that the group’s numbers are consistently larger than most security analysts speculate.

Read the rest of this article in SGP's Analysis Corner (registration is free).

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Friday, April 07, 2006

How do loyalty, group power work in jihadists circles?

Noor Huda Ismail, Brussels
The Jakarta Post, 7 April 2006

Have you ever wondered how loyalty among jihadists gets started? Usually, we think of them as a product of a highly contagious ideology. But the stretch of their loyalty has a lot to do with the skillful use of group power.

The idea is simple. If you want to bring about fundamental change in people's beliefs and behavior, a change that would endure and provide an example to others, you needed to form a group around you, where your beliefs can be practiced and articulated and nurtured.

This helps to explain why jihadists are required to attend regular meetings, say weekly or monthly, and to adhere to a strict code of conduct. If they fail to live up to the group's standards, they are reminded of these standards and even punished.
But what are the most effective groups that can bring about carnage?

The answer might lie in the arrests by the Indonesian police in mid-2003 of the first Bali bombers. Fifteen jihadists were directly related to the attacks, another 35 were guilty of harboring fugitives or withholding information, and another 30 possessed explosives or firearms.

In my reading, there are characteristics that distinguish each arrest. Those 15 jihadists who were directly related to the attack show us the fact that the group was aware that for a deadly operation, they had to keep themselves to a smaller group of people.

So they were close knit, which was very important for a successful operation. Imagine if the group got too large, then they would not be able to share things in common and they would start to become strangers. The operation would not work because they could not maintain the loyalty of each member.

In small groups, everybody knows each other and each person has a clear job distribution. As a result, most of the attacks, such as the JW Marriott Hotel, the Australian Embassy and the last year's Bali bombings, were carried out by a small group of hard-core loyalists.

National Police chief Gen. Sutanto said that Noordin and his followers remained hard to catch because they were "highly mobile and because they had a small team", allowing them to easily elude arrest.

While the other 35 who were guilty of harboring fugitives or withholding information in the first Bali blast may not have necessarily agreed with the attack, they shared some degree of loyalty to the group.

An example of this category is the grandson of Achmad Dahlan, the founder of Muhammadiyah, Achmad Roichan, alias Saad, who was arrested in April 2003 for withholding information on the whereabouts of Bali bomber Mukhlas.

Roichan is slender and composed. He talks slowly, with a slight Javanese accent. He has a kind of wry, ironic charm that is utterly winning. In my interviews with him in a Jakarta prison last year, he said he openly disagreed with the motive behind the Bali blasts. But he had fought with Mukhlas in Afghanistan from 1985 to 1988, and that created loyalty to the group.

Next on the list would be Herlambang, alias Subai, a 33-year-old Javanese who was arrested in December 2002 for harboring Bali bombers Sawad, Imam Samudra and Abdul Ghoni after the attack.

He is now in Krobokan Prison in Bali serving a six-year term. He was not directly involved in the attack and may have disagreed with it. But loyalty to the group triggered him to provide sanctuary for the bombers.

Psychologists here in Brussels tell us much about this phenomenon: When people are asked to consider evidence and make decisions in a group, they come to very different conclusions than when they are asked the same questions alone. Once we are part of a group, we are all susceptible to peer pressure and social norms.

"Peer pressure is much more powerful than a concept of boss. Many, many times more powerful. People want to live up to what is expected of them," these psychologists explain.

Historically, loyalty between members of regional terrorist group Jamaah Islamiyah seems to have been assumed within the group and has adjusted to internal needs, external shocks and demographic changes.

For that reason, many who are familiar with the group's workings were not surprised to learn that Abu Dujana has become the reported current leader of JI. According to Petrus Reinhard Golose of Indonesia's counterterrorism task force, Abu Dujana is "the guy who leads and has good relations with al-Qaeda and is trusted".

Abu Dujana, who is originally from a stronghold of Darul Islam in West Java, has proved his unquestionable loyalty to the group. He fought in Afghanistan together with Hambali. He shared his skills as a military trainer in the group's camp in Mindanao and allegedly worked closely with Abu Rusdan, a senior member of the group, before Rusdan's arrest.

As a secretary for Rusdan, Dujana was deeply involved with the group, getting reports from members and arranging meetings.

As for the international community, the real challenge is not merely to counter specific terrorist groups, but to always anticipate those individuals who might join a terror campaign because of an imagined connection with other people's struggles.
These "emotional" connections represent one obscure but real and lasting legacy of events such as the current ethnic-religious insurgency in southern Thailand, the unfinished Moro movement in the Philippines, the ongoing Palestinian struggle in the Middle East and obviously the war in Iraq that has drastically boosted terrorism, instead of lessening it.

The writer earned a British Chevening scholarship and is now in the postgraduate program in International Security Studies at St. Andrews University. He can be reached at

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Friday, March 10, 2006

Married to a Jihadist

By Noor Huda Ismail
For The Straits Times
In Barcelona

LAST year, I was invited to a monthly discussion at the Khadijah
Mosque, one of the most active mosques in Singapore. Half of the
audience comprised female religious teachers who give religious
counselling to, and help in the rehabilitation of, the families of
Jemaah Islamiah (JI) detainees. One woman expressed concern that
very little attention had been paid to understanding the role of
women in the terrorist group.

She was right. Our knowledge is limited.

But these days, after the arrest - in two separate cases late
last year and this February - of five women who have recently been
charged with smuggling bomb detonators and explosive materials
from Malaysia into Indonesia, the Indonesian police are gaining a
better understanding. ""Our investigations into these two cases
show that terrorist groups are likely to be using women to assist
them'', National Police spokesman Brigadier-General Anton Bachrul
Alam was quoted by the Jakarta Post.

One of the most common ways women have come to join the group
is through marriage. Sometimes, they marry known jihadists to
provide support at home. And sometimes, they marry and work
alongside their husbands.

The classic example is that of the Al-Qaeda point man in
South-east Asia, Hambali, now under custody. Hambali married
Noralwizah Lee Abdullah, whose father is Malay and mother a Chinse
who converted from Buddhism to Islam. Like her husband, Lee would
eventually also be known by several aliases, such as Acang, Lee
Yen Lan, and Awi. She was actively involved in the recruitment of
women to the group.

The pair met in the early 1990s in one of the small women corps
under the tutelage of JI founders. She was in one such group when
Hambali came to a meeting. My interviews with one of the lecturers
in that circle revealed that one topic of the lecture was "Women
and Jihad". Lee was eventually arrested with her husband in
Ayutthaya, Thailand in 2003.

Next on the list would be Omar al-Faruq, an Al-Qaeda
representative in South-east Asia, who married Mira Agustina, the
daughter of Haris Fadhilah. Fadhilah was a hard core Darul Islam
militia leader who fought in Ambon and died there. In this case,
it was an arranged marriage between a jihadist and the daughter of
a jihadist.

A Spanish security analyst here in Barcelona told me that
Parlindungan Siregar, an Indonesian national who studied in
Universidad Complutense de Madrid in 1987, had gone to Poso to run
military training classes. To give his operation a greater chance
of success, Siregar married the daughter of an Indonesian who had
fought in Afghanistan, Omar Bandon. Siregar is a friend of Abu
Dahdah, the head of Al-Qaeda in Spain.

Ken Conboy, in his book The Second Front, meticulously cited
Indonesia's intelligence body BIN's report that a Melbourne
resident, Jack Terrence Thomas (alias Jihad Thomas alias Abu Khair
Ismail), married the daughter of a retired Indonesian police
officer in Makassar. Australian authorities believed that Thomas
had ventured to Kandahar for paramilitary instruction in mid-2001.
The fact that he married the daughter of a police officer was to
maximise connections.

JI leader Noordin Mohd Top married a girl from Riau who is a
sister of Muhammad Rais, a JI member who was arrested by
Indonesian police just a couple of months before the Marriott
Hotel attack in Jakarta. The stoic Rais studied at the Ngruki
Islamic boarding school, once also my alma mater.

During his break from his destructive plans, Noordin laid low
while casting for new targets. Surprisingly, during that time, he
married his second wife, Munfiatun Al Fitri, in a secret ceremony
arranged by JI members in Surabaya in 2004. Al Fitri graduated
with a degree in agriculture from Brawijawa University in Malang,
East Java and taught Arabic at Pondok Pesantren Miftahul Huda,
Subang, West Java.

One may be curious whether there is any example of women's
participation in war in classical Islamic history.

I found fascinating the story of women from the time of the
Prophet Muhammad who fought in his wars, cited in a brief
treatise, Manaqib al sahabiyyat (the English title of which is The
Merits of the Women Companions of the Prophet Muhammad). The
treatise was written by the 13th century Muslim moralist, Abd al
Ghani bin Abd al Wahid al Maqdisi.

Al Ghani wrote that a woman called Nusayba was said to have
gone out to help the wounded during the Battle of Uhud (626), but
then took up sword and sustained 12 wounds. She was quoted as
saying that there were four women with her - she took up the
sword, whereas another, who was pregnant, had a knife, and they
fought alongside the men.

In the same vein, modern feminist Aliyya Mustafa Mubarok, in
her collection, Sahabiyat Mujahidat (whose English title is The
Fighters of Women Companions of the Prophet Muhammad), has
gathered a list of 67 women who according to her fought in the
wars. But the women fought under legal order from authorised
religious figures such as the Prophet Muhammad himself or the
caliphates, against foreign occupation of their countries.

I wonder, today, what the justification is in Indonesia for
women to partake in violence, since it isn't under any threat or
foreign occupation. For the Qur'anic injunction is ""Do not
transgress: truly God does not love the transgressor'', while the
Prophet says: ""None of you believe until you love for your
neighbours what you love for yourself''.

It is only by distorting and abandoning Islam's true teachings
can anyone kill innocent civilians. Moreover, Muslims clearly are
the biggest victims of this terror. In fact, Muslims are killing

Silhouetted against lush paddy fields in Cigarung village in
West Java in mid 2005, the son of Heri Golun, the suicide bomber
who bombed the Australian Embassy in Jakarta in September 2004,
cuddled me. He is a sweet baby boy. I can't imagine what his
mother is going to tell him in the future about his father. Now
that the husband is gone, she is the one carrying the burden of
shame. What a life.

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Understanding How Jihadists in Indonesia Rejuvenate Themselves


Jamaah Islamiyah, a pan-Southeast Asia jihadi network, has been weaken by arrests and other counter-terror measures put in place since the October 2002 Bali bombing, parts of the organizations, or even individuals, can continue to function in partnership with non JI groups . Since then, terrorists have struck with murderous effect, twice in Jakarta -- at the Marriott Hotel in August 2003 and in the vicinity of the Australian Embassy in September 2004 -- and once again in Bali last October. But which group and how are the partnerships forged

The full article is in PDF format, please click here to see it.

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Monday, December 12, 2005

Quest for the meaning of life drives educated men to death

A school-days connection to later terrorists has set Noor Huda Ismail on a mission to find out what makes ordinary people turn to jihad

The Australian, December 12, 2005

I KNOW Jemaah Islamiah only too well. I was a student of the Ngruki religious school in Solo, central Java, for six years from 1985.

My roommate was involved in the first attack on
Bali. Another schoolmate became a suicide bomber. But only a small number of graduates became jihadists.

The school has been linked to JI because both share the same founder -- Abdullah Sungkar.

One of the perpetrators of the first Bali attack -- Mubarok, alias Fadlullah Hasan -- was my former roommate in Ngruki school. His wife and children told me what a loving husband and warm father he was.

The suicide bomber in the Jakarta Marriott bombing of August 2003 was Asmar Latin Sani, also from my school. All his former classmates describe him as a smart, polite and good-hearted young man.

Journalists who cover terrorism stories would agree with me that, in the main, friends, families and neighbors of terrorists are shocked and surprised to find out that they had been mingling with "terrorists". But I learned that most people who turn to terrorism are searching for answers to the meaning of life.

When the first attack in Bali happened in October 2002, I was there to cover it for The Washington Post, and since then I have talked to many jihadists both inside and outside jail, in addition to visiting abandoned jungle training camps on Seram Island in Maluku and reading classified jihadist documents.

In July this year, I went to the home of Heri Golun, the suicide bomber who attacked the Australian embassy last year.

He lived in a remote village in West Java. The name of the village is Cigarung, but people now call it the terrorist village.

Golun had a secondary school education but never went to my school. His father was a labourer working in the rice market and his spouse was a housewife.

In the middle of this year, I visited the house of Ismail Datam, 27, a devout man who did reconnaissance for the Marriott operation, in Riau. The house was simple and made of wooden planks. There were no chairs in the living room.

JI ringleader Noordin Mohammed Top stayed in this house a couple of days before the Marriott operation.

When I asked why Ismail joined the operation, his father, Datam, replied: "My son was very sad because he could not go to jihad in Afghanistan or in (the Philippines-based) Moro. I'm poor and I didn't have enough money to send him there."

They are poor, simple people.

In our society, there is a wide consensus that eliminating poverty from society also rids it of crime.

At a gathering of Nobel peace prize laureates, South Africa's Archbishop Desmond Tutu and South Korea's Kim Dae-jong opined, "At the bottom of terrorism is poverty"; Elie Wiesel and the Dalai Lama concluded that "Education is the way to eliminate terrorism".

But poverty and lack of education are clearly not the main root-causes of terrorism. Osama bin Laden is a highly educated and very rich man, and JI mastermind Azahari bin Husin -- who was killed in a shootout with Indonesian police last month -- earned his PhD in Britain.

In May this year, on the outskirts of Jakarta, I interviewed Tajul Arifin, 38, a jihadist who robbed Bank Central Asia in 1999 and was alleged to have taken part in an attempt to assassinate Indonesian politician Matori Abdul Jalil, a one-time leader of the Awakening and Justice Party. He is not poor and is a son of an Indonesian military man.

Another former jihadist I interviewed was Fauzi Isman.

He was arrested in 1989 for subversion and released 10 years later. Isman comes from a military family and graduated from the Jakarta State Academy of Statistics in 1989. In his noisy house in Curug, east Jakarta, he said that he wanted to overthrow the Indonesian Government and replace it with an Islamic state.

In the same vein, a Singapore parliamentary report on 31 captured operatives from JI and other al-Qa'ida allies in Southeast Asia underscores the pattern: "These men were not ignorant, destitute or disenfranchised.

"All 31 had received secular education ... Like many of their counterparts in militant Islamic organizations in the region; they held normal, respectable jobs.

"As a group, most of the detainees regarded religion as their most important personal value ... secrecy over the true knowledge of jihad helped create a sense of sharing and empowerment vis-à-vis others."

So what leads a normal person to be involved in terrorism?

Part of the answer may lie in philosopher Hannah Arendt's notion of the "banality of evil", which she used to describe the fact that it was mostly very ordinary Germans who were recruited to man Nazi extermination camps; not sadistic lunatics.

I agree with Arendt that anyone could be involved in terrorism, especially if the environment shapes the conditions.

People like Top are seen as charismatic leaders, and he exploits this status. He takes ordinary people into a mindset of historical, political and religious grievance and turns them into terrorists.

This is especially true for the impatient young recruits who do not have a deep understanding of Islam and see their old leaders as lazy men who are not interested in jihad any more.

Azahari is no longer in the game. But we still have Top out there, who knows how to get fresh recruits. He has brainwashed Asmar Latin Sani, Heri Golun, Mochamad Salik Firdaus, Misno and Aep Hidayat.

In the second Bali blast, Top made a final step before a "martyrdom operation" in the form of a video testament.

Some security analysts say the video testament was part of Top's strategy to generate more recruits and wider support. They may not be JI members through induction, and they may never use the name of JI, but they share an ideology.

In the past, Top scouted mosques and schools for candidates deemed susceptible to intense religious indoctrination. Now he can find them everywhere.

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Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Familial Kinship Among Islamists

Wearing a gray sarong and white T-shirt, Ahmad Rofiq Ridho, who is now on trial for surveying possible bombing targets, including a Christian school in East Java, recently told me his mother took his arrest calmly.

"Do not worry about your arrest. It is not new in our family. I was in jail when your sister was a baby," Ridho quoted his mother as telling him when she visited him in a Jakarta prison several months ago.

Ridho is the brother of Fathur Rohman al-Ghozi, a high-ranking member of the regional terrorist group Jamaah Islamiyah (JI) who was killed by Philippine troops in 2003. His late father was arrested during the Soeharto regime for his 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.
Jamaah Islamiyah is held together not just by ideology and training, but also by an intricate network of marriages that at times makes it seem like one large extended family. In many cases, senior JI leaders arrange to have younger group members marry the leaders' sisters or sisters-in-law to keep the network secure.

Yassin Sawwal, who received training in Afghanistan, is married to a daughter-in-law of one of the founders of Jamaah Islamiyah. Another example is Ali Ghufron. His wife, Farida Abbas, is the younger sister of Nassir bin Abbas, the former head of Mantiqi, the territorial command of Jamaah Islamiyah. Two of Ali Ghufron's brothers, Ali Imron and Amrozi, were deeply involved in the first Bali bombings. Ali Fauzi, one of the alleged Bali bombers who is still at large, is Ali Ghufron's half-brother.

In her simple house in Cijeruk, Bogor, Mira Agustina told me that her father, Haris Fadillah, a Muslim militia leader, arranged her marriage to Omar al-Faruq, an al-Qaeda representative in Southeast Asia.

Family bonds also extend to in-laws. Yazid Suffat became more religious at the encouragement of his wife. He studied with senior members of Jamaah Islamiyah, ended up joining the group and was the host of an al-Qaeda meeting in Kuala Lumpur that helped lay the groundwork for the attack on the U.S. aircraft carrier Cole in Yemen and the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the U.S.

Iwan Dharmawan, who played a major role in planning and executing the Australian Embassy bombing in Jakarta, including recruiting the suicide bomber, is the nephew of Kang Jaja, the founder of Ring Banten, a regional chapter of Jamaah Islamiyah in Banten province. In 1999, Kang Jaja sent recruits to train at Camp Hudaibiyah and in Ambon and Poso.

Muhammad Rais, who was involved in the Jakarta JW Marriott Hotel bombing, is the brother-in-law of Noordin M. Top. Taufiq Abdul Hakim, alias Dani, who lost part of his right leg in the Atrium bombing in Jakarta in 2001, is the brother-in-law of Zulkifli Hir, a leader of the Malaysian Mujahideen Group, whose members in 2000 and 2001 were responsible for a series of crimes in Malaysia, including the assassination of Christian assemblyman Joe Fernandez.

Another person allegedly involved in the 2001 Atrium bombing was Solahuddin, who is still at large. He is the younger brother of Farihin and Abdul Jabbar, who were both involved in the bombing of the Philippine ambassador's Jakarta residence. Solahidin's father is a member of Darul Islam. In an interview, Farihin said his uncles, also Darul Islam members, tried to assassinate Indonesian president Sukarno in the 1950s.
Most people join extremist groups not because of some individual pathology. They look, dress and behave like normal people, until they receive a mission.

Once inside these groups, they cement their mutual bonds by marrying the sisters and daughters of other members. Therefore, it is difficult for an individual to move away from these groups without betraying their closest friends and family. This natural and intense loyalty to these extremist groups helps transform alienated young Muslims into jihadists.

In short, understanding kinship in these organizations is pivotal because kinship is the most basic principle for organizing individuals into social groups, roles and categories. These extremist organizations are based on parentage and marriage, like other organizations in all human societies.

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Friday, October 14, 2005

It’s the War on Ideology Stupid!

When I covered the trial of Imam Samudra in Bali court for the Washington Post three years ago, Samudra provoked his police accusers in court, and then welcomed his death sentence with the scream: “Infidel die”.

It was not surprising then when Samudra released a 280 page jailhouse autobiography titled “Me against the Terrorist” contains harsh justifications for Bali attacks that could inspire other militants.

This year, Nasir Abbas, a reformed Jamaah Islamiyah, member told me that one of the Kuningan bombers was inspired by Samudra’s book to join 'the Jihad'. On last August 2005 in Ambon police detention, Asep Djaja (31), one of KOMPAK members who were involved in the police attack in Seram Island expressed the same thing to me.

The book has been received highly response among militants. In my interview with Achmand Michdan, Samudra’s attorney who wrote the forward said that thousand copies have been issued in at least seven cities across island of Java and Sumatra. Michdan said that the publisher is considering translating the book into English, French and Arabic.

Last month, Indonesia's top clerics and Muslim intellectuals have formed a special taskforce, dubbed the "anti-terror team". Even though, according former head of Indonesian intelligent, A.M Hendripriono (the Jakarta Post 5/12/2005) this effort is ‘long overdue’ but it is still seen a tremendous progress and highly praised by many security analysts. It has been reported that Samudra’s book is on the top of the list of book to study. The team will face difficult work amid the fact that Indonesian public is skeptical about the existence of such a terrorist problem. Worse, I interviewed some of members of the team couple years ago and they viewed the whole war against terrorism as a plan to weaken Islam. Some even said:” The terrorist threat real of hocus pocus?” and “who’s the ‘real’ terrorist?”

“Conspiracy theory has been mushrooming as useful way to form the loyalty and commitment also to form and catalysts for action” Dr John Horgan, the writer of The Physiology of Terrorist explains. “Police’s respond or military respond is not enough to combat terrorism because terrorists operate in multi level ways. The government must win the moral authority”

To provide a discussion, thus I will adopt a broad definition of terrorism as: “the use or threat of use of violence as a means of attempting to achieve some sort of effect within a political context” where the political dimension separates it from regular violence.

Of course, Samudra is in one side's "terrorists" may well be another side's "freedom fighters".

Other examples, in this definition's sense, the Nazi occupiers of France rightly denounced the "subnational" and "clandestine" French Resistance fighters as terrorists. During the 1980s, the International Court of Justice used the U.S. Administration's own definition of terrorism to call for an end to U.S. support for "terrorism" on the part of Nicaraguan Contras opposing peace talks.

Once we agreed with the definition, we will not stumble in ‘semantics’ problem like Jama’ah Islamiyah or Al Jama’ah Al Islamiyah.

One may say that Samudra’s ideas in his book is just ‘non sense’ and ‘groundless’. But in fact his ideas can be traced back to the Egyptian radical Muhammad al-Faraj who was executed by Cairo in 1982 for his role in the assassination of President Anwar Sadat.

Faraj’s pamphlet, the Neglected Obligation, was influenced by works of al Banna, Maududi and Qutb that brought their incipient absolutizing ideas to their ultimate conclusion. Faraj asserted that the “Qur’an and Hadist were fundamentally warfare”. He also said that not just infidels but even Muslims who deviated from the moral and social dictates of shariah were legitimate targets for jihad”.

While on Samudra’s global awareness such as his statement: “Remember, the main duty of Muslims is Jihad in the name of God, to raise arms against the infidels, especially now the United States and its allies” had been inspired by the teaching of charismatic Palestinian Abdullah Azzam, a key mentor of Osama bin Laden. Azam met the family of Qutb and was friendly with the “blind sheikh” Omar Abdur Rahman who would later be implicated in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing in New York.

After the Soviet withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989, Azam, who recruited non-Afghan Mujahidin, including Southeast Asian like Samudra, began to set his sight further. He argued that the struggle to expel Soviet from Afghan was in fact “the prelude to liberation of Palestine and other “lost” territories.

To prevent the spread of Samudra’s ideas is to delegitimaze- do not just arrest or kill him. Samudra’s ideas occupy an enormous influential and important symbolic position that often inextricably connected to the organization’s very existence. Therefore, the public diplomacy campaign to discredit his ideas is as or even more important that actual arrest or death.

However I would like to assure myself that Islam is a peaceful religion (what it is) the mere possibility of a multi interpretable concept of holy war as a way of defending the ummah under attack and the strong religious-political desire to found a caliphate on strict shariah principles is in my opinion the main factor of to-day's exclusive radicalism and terrorism coming from Islamic circles.

“As long as within Islam itself a fundamental process of rethinking of and public debate on ancient values (and especially the concept of jihad) in a modern, highly technological and globalized cultural environment, its exclusive religious and political aspirations and above all its too literal interpretation of the surah of the Qur'an Islam itself will remain a breeding ground for violent and undemocratic movements” explains Frans G. de Kuijer, a western social researcher who lives in Jogjakarta and married with a Javanese Moslem.

Mind: in a democracy like to-day in Indonesia political Islam have the best chances to reach above mentioned goals within the existing political-legal structure. A lot of "injustice" towards non-Muslims today can be explained by the fear of the democratic chosen government to openly criticize or to strongly oppose "unlawful" behavior of hardliners.

My fear for the longer run is that the above mentioned Islamists can reach no other conclusion than that, once in power, democracy, freedom of thought, individual (religious) choice and protection of minorities can no longer be automatically guaranteed or stronger stated: will be not in line with their exclusive political goals.

With a full of hope, de Kuijer also says that on the shorter run that within Indonesian Islam the more tolerant, inclusive and less radical political teachings will overcome the present trends towards radicalization. “I hope it also for my yet unborn child that will be raised as an Indonesian and for whom Indonesia will be its tanah air.”

Thus, to halt bombing we need also a research to understand the dynamic of the ideas of the group together with its arrangement of psychological and cultural relationships that are attracting and forging dozens, possibly hundred, of mostly ordinary people into the terrorist organization.

This call for research demands more patience and there is no magic bullet to solve this problem. The awareness should be built because the cost of ignorance is severe to consider.

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Thursday, August 25, 2005

Schooled For a House of Islam

An Islamic-educated journalist in Indonesia chose a different path from classmates who embraced Darul Islam

Noor Huda Ismail
YaleGlobal, 25 August 2005

JAKARTA: The word that describes the goal of Islam – creating a house of Islam – is also the name of an Indonesian organization whose aim has been to turn the country into a house ruled by Allah's law, shariah. As a student in one of Indonesia's famous Islamic schools, I had a close encounter with the group, Darul Islam, and their philosophy. I have since adopted the life of a secular Muslim, and for me, Darul has lost its punch. But I fear that indiscriminate persecution of the splintered group might re-energize the group and signal trouble for Indonesia and the region.

My Islamic studies started in 1985, when I was 12. My father brought me to Al Mukmin Ngruki, one of thousands of Islamic boarding schools around the country. After six years of study, I opted for different schooling and a career in journalism. Several of my fellow students, however, made a different choice – one which made my school famous: Dozens of Ngruki's alumni have been accused of taking part in a wave of terrorist attacks against Westerners in Indonesia in recent years.

Still, reflecting on my time at Ngruki, I realize that what is more shocking is that more of us didn't turn to extremism. The school sought to instill a singular message of Islamic identity at the expense of others, and the parting message to us was to join the clandestine Darul Islam organization.

Even outside of class, the environment fostered development of a singular Islamic identity – to the exclusion of other influences. We never sang Indonesian national anthem; the only music we heard at the school was nasyid, Arabic religious songs, from loudspeakers in the corners of the school buildings. The wall hangings that adorned our Spartan dormitory had Arabic calligraphies, such as, "Live as a noble man or die as a martyr."

In classes, the message was even clearer. In our Thursday night public speaking class, the favorite topic often was "Islam under threat." We listened to the verse of the Koran that says that the infidels and Jews will never stop fighting us until we follow their religion. Our teachers did not recognize the secular state of Indonesia; they said there was no obligation for us to obey Indonesian law. They quoted the Koran: "Whoever does not follow God's law is an infidel."

But it was ultimately during my final year that I learned about the importance of solidarity among Muslims, and a driving force behind the Islamic statehood movement. One of the teachers, an expert in Chinese martial arts named Abdurrohim (alias Abu Husna), said to us, "A Muslim must be in an Islamic group called Darul Islam." Some of the graduating students, myself included, took an oath of membership in the group, a clandestine movement devoted to establishing an Islamic state.

Derived from the Arabic word 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 has spawned many offshoots and splinters who committed violent acts in the name of jihad. In fact, it is impossible to have a clear and comprehensive understanding of all jihadist movements without looking at the dynamic and complicated development of Darul Islam.

Various incarnations of the group have been involved in rebellions since the mid-20th century. Sekarmadji Maridjan Kartosuwirjo started an indigenous Islamic rebellion on August 7, 1949 – just when Indonesia was gaining independence from the Dutch colonial rule. Disappointed with the newly formed Indonesian Republic headed by Sukarno, Kartosuwirjo proclaimed his own Indonesian Islamic State (NII) in opposition to the 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 a firing squad. But that was far from the end of Darul Islam.

After the overthrow of the Sukarno regime, the fortune of Darul Islam turned. Virulently opposed to the godless Communists, Darul veterans played a strong role in the fight against communism, from the mid-1960s through the 1980s. All Islamic organizations, including Darul Islam, enthusiastically backed the CIA-orchestrated coup (from 1965 to 1966) that installed the Suharto dictatorship - resulted in the massacre of an estimated 500,000 Communist Party members, workers, and sympathizers. The December 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan galvanized Muslims all over the world, including those in Indonesia. Thousands of Indonesians fought in the war, of which Darul Islam sent 360. Some of these people would later emerge as the fighters of a pan-regional group Jamaah Islamiyah, responsible for major terrorist attacks in the region, including the Bali blast that killed 202 people most of them foreigners. (The alleged leader of the group, Abu Bakar Ba'asyir's jail sentence was recently cut.)

As with Osama bin Laden, whom the CIA had backed during his anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan, Indonesia's Islamic fighters also benefited from an alliance of convenience with America – only to emerge later as the sworn enemy of their one-time Western ally and Indonesia's secular government.

Today, the objective of Darul Islam remains the same as its initial purpose: to establish an Islamic state in Indonesia. But they claim that they would never dream of using violence to achieve the goal. Non-Muslims are not the enemy, they say; rather, the enemy is the state ideology of Pancasila – a mere creation of humans. Darul leaders claim to seek the establishment of a state with shariah law by peaceful means.

After my graduation from Ngruki, some Darul members approached me to attend more classes on the faith and donate 2.5 percent of my income to the organization. But I drifted away: Like the majority of my fellow alumni, I opted for a successful career in the secular world. In our daily lives, we have to acknowledge a pluralism that is not consistent with a strict interpretation of Islam. In fact, of the 88 percent of Indonesians who are Muslim, most lead secular lives.

Despite my mixed family background, I remain a Muslim who prays five times a day, reads the Koran and hopes to visit Mecca. But at the same time, I have worked for the American media, hosted Jewish American friends in my home, and spent Friday nights in bars having drinks.

Though the Darul Islam as an organization may not be as much of a threat today – it is fragmented, disorganized – its call resonates with poorly educated, marginalized people in impoverished areas. And in that vein, Darul Islam can be a fertile ground for terrorists to recruit members of different splinter groups who want to put into practice the teaching of jihad. And as recent events have shown, a tiny group of people can create an enormous amount of damage. The fact that Darul Islam adherents share the same objective as Osama bin Laden or Europe-based terrorist groups – to create a new Dar al Islam and a new Caliphate – remains a matter of global concern. However, to carry out arrest of current Darul Islam members without hard evidence could turn the targets of pressure into heroes with Muslim community.

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Sunday, June 26, 2005

Schooled For Jihad

They Turned to Terrorism. I Wanted to Know Why.

By Noor Huda Ismail
The Washington Post
Sunday, June 26, 2005

It is visiting hour at Jakarta's Cipinang Prison and its most famous inmate, the Muslim preacher Abubakar Baasyir, sits on a wooden bench surrounded by a dozen acolytes, assistants and lawyers. Several prisoners attend to him, including a confessed terrorist who has become the cleric's servant and coordinates a team of six to wash his clothes and cook his meals without pay. Prison officials allow Baasyir to teach a class on Islam to fellow inmates four times a week; about 100 prisoners attend each session.

Hasyim Abdullah, Baasyir's right-hand man, is posted outside the prison to run errands for the cleric, buy his food and help the friends, family members and supporters who visit nearly every day. They give messages to the cleric and take directions from him to his followers on the outside.

Baasyir is holding court in prison instead of his home or office because Indonesian prosecutors have accused him of being the emir of the terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah. In a 65-page indictment, they alleged that he was involved in "planning and/or encouraging other people to commit terrorism" including the 2003 bombing of the J. W. Marriott Hotel in Jakarta, where 12 people were killed, and the 2002 bombing of a resort in Bali, where 202 people were killed. A court cleared Baasyir in the Marriott attack and found him guilty of approving of (but not of ordering) the Bali bombings.

For the international community, the case is a litmus test of the Indonesian government's resolve in the war on terrorism. Despite the severity of the charges against him, Baasyir received only a 30-month sentence. His lawyers say the sentence ran out on June 4 and they are suing the government for his release.

But for me, Baasyir's case poses a different question. That's because he was a co-founder of the Islamic boarding school, Al Mukmin Ngruki, where I spent six years studying in sweltering classrooms. While I chose a career in journalism, many of my fellow students made a different choice. Dozens of Ngruki's alumni have been accused of taking part in a wave of terrorist attacks against Westerners in Indonesia. Security analysts and police investigators believe that the link is no coincidence. Sidney Jones of the International Crisis Group has called my alma mater an "Ivy League" for Jemaah Islamiyah recruits.

All of which makes me wonder: Why did so many of my fellow students end up choosing terrorism while I ended up writing about them?

To begin to answer that question, I decided to meet Abubakar Baasyir in jail. I contacted Hasyim, his soft-spoken liaison man, whose cell phone is constantly on. "Please come in," he said when I arrived. Using the word for teacher, he added, "Ustadz is ready."

After 10 minutes, the white bearded cleric entered. In his mid-sixties, he appeared in a white shirt and worn eyeglasses; a white box cap was perched on his head. Abdul Jabar, a JI member who admitted to blowing up an explosives-laden van at the house of the Philippine ambassador in 2000, accompanied him.

Baasyir, who proclaims himself an admirer of Osama bin Laden but still denies that he is a terrorist leader, said that he is just a victim of "the infidel Bush's America." Then he quoted a verse from the Koran: "The infidels will never stop fighting us until we follow their way." I know that verse by heart. We learned it in school.
I was never the typical Ngruki student, so in some ways it's no surprise that I didn't follow a path toward Islamic extremism. My father, who is a parole officer, sent me there in 1985 when I was 12. Only later did he tell me that he did so in order to get an inside look at the place because so many of his cases were Islamic militants who had studied there before landing in prison. "It made it easy for me to come and observe the school," my father later explained.

Moreover, I came from a secular family with a diverse background. My father is a Muslim who was just 9 when his father died. Afterward my father's eldest brother, who married into a Catholic family in central Java, looked after him and sent my father to school. My mother came from a strong Javanese family. Her grandfather was a dalang -- a puppet master.

Yet it was still hard to avoid being swept up in the spirit of Ngruki. The only music we heard was nasyid , Arabic religious songs, from loudspeakers in the corners of the school buildings. On the dormitory wall hung Arabic calligraphies. One said: "Die as a noble man or die as a martyr."

The school's facilities were spartan. I slept on the floor with a simple plastic mattress and pillow in a dingy dormitory with 20 other students. The dorm's head boy was only three years older than I. He introduced himself as Fadlullah Hasan. He had straight black hair, brown skin and a blue bruise on his forehead from bowing to pray five times a day. Like me, he came from the city of Yogyakarta and because of this bond, we grew quite close.

Even at age 15, he was zealous. He always got up earlier than the rest of us and would carry out his duty of waking up all the students in our dorm. After prayers in the mosque, he would lead us in reading the Koran and then encourage us further back in our rooms. In his speeches, he said that we were there to study Islam and that when we graduated we would have to do dakwah -- proselytize -- to bring other people to "true" Islam. Hasan was gregarious and smart. His classmates would come to ask him questions. Among them were Fathur Rohman Al Ghozie, a JI member who later died in the Philippines, and Aris Munandar, who was later alleged to be a JI fundraiser and who is still at large.

After two months in the school, I realized that Hasan hadn't introduced himself with his real name. He had used an alias. His real name is Utomo Pamungkas. It is a tradition in the school to change the names of students if their names are not considered Islamic. It is up to the student to choose, usually the name of one of the prophet's friends or one of God's 99 names.

In many ways, Ngruki, founded in 1972, is not unusual. For years there have been thousands of Islamic boarding schools around the country. But only in the past two years, since the bombs exploded on Indonesia's resort island of Bali have these schools come under close scrutiny.

Ngruki encouraged anti-Semitism. On Thursday nights when I was there, students practiced public speaking. Their favorite topic would be "Islam under threat." Their speeches typically quoted the verse of the Koran that says that the infidels and Jews will never stop fighting us until we follow their religion. When I was 15, it was my favorite topic too.

The teachers were campaigners for an Islamic state and the implementation of Islamic law. "Indonesia is still under secular law," they would say. "Therefore there is no obligation for us to obey Indonesian law." To back up their arguments, they quoted the Koran: "Whoever does not follow God's law is an infidel."

They lacked national spirit. They refused to fly the national flag or to accept Pancasila, the Indonesian national philosophy. Shortly before I enrolled, two of the school's founders, Baasyir and Abdullah Sungkar, had gone into exile to avoid being imprisoned for subversion under the Suharto regime. They didn't return until the late 1990s.

During my final year at the school, one of the teachers, an expert in Chinese martial arts named Abdurrohim (alias Abu Husna), explained to a group of graduating students, including me, about the importance of togetherness among Muslims. "A Muslim must be in an Islamic group called Darul Islam," he said. He stressed to all of us that this organization was a clandestine movement devoted to establishing an Islamic state. Later, sitting on a green carpet in his poorly lit house, he recited an oath, which I repeated. I was only 18. After graduation, some Darul members asked me to donate 2.5 percent of my earnings and to attend meetings to deepen my knowledge of Islam, but I drifted away.

Given this background, it's a wonder that more of us didn't turn to extremism. Despite my mixed family background, I remain a Muslim who prays five times a day, reads the Koran and hopes to visit Mecca. But at the same time, I have worked for the American media, hosted Jewish American friends in my home and spent Friday nights in bars having drinks. Recently I won a fellowship to study in the United Kingdom.

The majority of my fellow alumni are more or less like me. They are successful in the secular world. They must realize that some of the school's teachings are unrealistic. To survive in the real world, we have to work and interact with people who don't share our ideas. We have to acknowledge a pluralism in our daily lives that is not consistent with a strict interpretation of Islam. Of the 88 percent of Indonesians who are Muslim, most lead secular lives.

In my case, I had to get a personal ID card from the same government with which we were taught not to cooperate. I continued my studies at two government colleges where I had to sing the national anthem and fly the national flag, which I never did during my years at Ngruki.

But some of my fellow alumni, according to recent interviews I conducted with those detained by the Jakarta police, had a different sort of post-graduate education. They went to military training camps, either Dar Al Ittihad Al Islamy in Afghanistan or Camp Hudaibiyah in the Moro region of the Philippines, as part of a Jemaah Islamiyah program to prepare as many young people as possible for jihadi operations. In their daily lives, they didn't mingle with people who didn't share their ideas and they believed that they were on "the proper path." To earn a living, most worked for themselves as entrepreneurs selling sandals or clothes, or running small cafeterias.
Fifteen years after I graduated from Ngruki, I met again with my dorm mate Hasan -- this time in the Jakarta police jail in 2004. I was working for the media that he considers an extension of the infidels, while he was, and remains, behind bars because of his alleged involvement in the Bali blast. According to police, Hasan was the moneyman for the Bali bombers. Gold stolen from a bank was converted to cash that was deposited in Hasan's bank account before being used by terrorists.

At first, Hasan was surprised to see me and didn't know how to react. I could tell that he wanted to embrace me, but he hesitated after learning that I was working for The Washington Post. I spoke to him in Arabic, asking how he was. He was still uncomfortable. Only after a number of meetings could we communicate normally.

Hasan is the fifth of seven children from a simple peasant family in a remote village in the Yogyakarta area. His father sent him to Ngruki expecting him to become a religious teacher in the village. "I have disappointed him," Hasan said during one of my visits. "Instead of being a religious teacher, I'm being a terrorist. Now I'm locked in here."

After graduating from Ngruki, he taught for a year. But soon he fell under the spell of the Jemaah Islamiyah emir, Sungkar, whom he had met at Ngruki. "He was like father to me," he said of Sungkar. Starting in 1990, Hasan traveled to Malaysia, Pakistan, Afghanistan and the Philippines to study, wage jihad and do missionary work. Hasan quickly became a senior member of Jemaah Islamiyah.

In 2000, Hasan moved to an Islamic boarding school in East Java, where, he told me, he had met all the perpetrators of the Bali bombings. Later he went into hiding in Kalimantan, where the police caught up with him. Sitting cross-legged on his reasonably clean black plastic mattress, Hasan talked about his wife and two children who still live at the school. "Each time I remember them, I feel so sad," he said.
Hasan isn't alone in police detention. He is with other Ngruki alumni, including Muhammad Saefudin and Muhammad Rais. Saefudin and Rais met bin Laden in Afghanistan several times in 2001. Rais, who allegedly conveyed a bin Laden message to Baasyir, was arrested for storing explosive materials for the Marriott hotel bombing; Saefudin was allegedly being groomed as the future JI leader.

For them, the world is divided clearly between good and evil, victim and oppressor. They believe God is on their side. "We saw many of my brothers in Islam killed brutally in Afghanistan and Moro, so it is our calling to destroy the enemy of Islam, all the infidels," Hasan said.

It was a calling some of us never heard.

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