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On June 22, 2018, a leader of an Islamic terror organization was sentenced to death for his role in planning and inciting recent suicide bombing terror attacks in Indonesia. Aman Abdurrahman is the leader of an Indonesian terrorist organization, Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD), which has aligned itself with the Islamic State (ISIS). Abdurrahman has been serving time in prison since 2010 on a terrorism-related sentence. While in prison, he founded JAD and was able to continue to spread his ideology. Abdurrahman was convicted of inspiring his followers to commit five deadly attacks in 2016–2017. The situation with Abdurrahman takes place within the larger picture of Indonesia responding to the growing threat of violent extremism.
There is concern that the sentencing of this prominent ideological leader will incite even further acts of terrorism. In an interview with The Age, the Centre for Radicalism and De-radicalism Studies director Adhe Bhakti expressed concern over retaliation from Abdurraham’s followers if he were to be executed, especially considering how much violence his words were able to cause. Bhakti stated that there is a need for increased security and intelligence surveillance. Sidney Jones, the director of the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC) in Jakarta, is also concerned about the effects of this death sentence, stating that Abdurrahman’s death will “turn him into a martyr” for the extremist movement.
Another factor to be considered in the aftermath of this sentencing is that Abdurrahman was convicted for actions he committed while already in jail. He is likely to spend many more years in jail, like a fellow terrorist who has been on death row in Indonesia since 2005. According to IPAC, Abdurrahman was able to translate ISIS statements and post them online as well as have phone conversations with other extremists while in prison. There is reason for concern that he will be able to continue orchestrating attacks and spreading his radical ideology even after this death sentence.
It seems that the best path forward to prevent further conflict, in terms of the reaction to this sentencing and the growing visibility of a violent extremist movement in Indonesia in general, is to increase enforcement of anti-terrorism laws. The several hundred police stationed at the court during Abdurrahman’s trial indicates that the Indonesian government is aware of the increased risks regarding this individual. The conviction of Abdurrahman represents a tougher stance against terrorism but continued increase in security and monitoring of terrorist leaders is necessary to prevent the spread of radical ideology and future attacks. Better prison security management to prevent communication of convicted terrorists with the outside world would also need to be included.
Although it is the country with the largest Muslim population, relatively few recruits are actually traveling from Indonesia to Syria and Iraq to fight for ISIS. According to Sarah Jones of the IPAC, this is because, in Indonesia, there is not a repressive government, the country is politically stable, and Muslims are not a persecuted minority. This helps to prevent the instability radical groups take advantage of when recruiting.
However, Abdurrahman shows that terrorism has become an increasingly important issue – the latest attack occurring in May 2018. The UN Security Council reported that ISIS’s losses in Iraq and Syria may intensify the threat to southeast Asia. These threats are controlled by Indonesia’s counter-terrorism force, Detachment 88, which has received funding and training from the United States. Also, a new anti-terror law approved in May 2018 involves the military in counterterrorism measures and gives the police increased power to detain terror suspects.
Tactics of managing individuals with extremist views at risk for inciting violence may prevent the short-term threat of terror attacks, but it does not prevent ISIS from spreading its ideology and gaining a foothold in Indonesia. The largest Islamic organization in Indonesia, Nahdlatul Ulama, is one of many organizations that campaign against extremism by spreading Islam’s beliefs in compassion and inclusivity in order to prevent people from being radicalized. Spreading the view of Islam practiced by the vast majority of Muslim Indonesians reaffirms the values of their society and makes radical ideas even more unacceptable and marginalized. It is good that Aman Abdurrahman is being held accountable for his role in terrorist activities, but this action alone is not enough to prevent the spread of Islamic extremism and future attacks. Indonesia needs to monitor communications of known members of ISIS-affiliated groups and take action against potential violence, while also addressing the root of the problem – the spread of radical ideas – by emphasizing the peace and tolerance preached by Islam. This will allow Indonesia to be an example of how violent extremism can be kept out of Muslim communities.