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, 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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