Systematic deradicalization program needed: Expert

The war against terror is a war of ideologies. It can only be won by changing extremists’ belief in the use of violence, an expert in Indonesian extremism says.

Executive director of the Institute of International Peace Building, Noor Huda Ismail, believes terrorism can be rooted out of society, particularly in Indonesia, but the government and civil society should place more emphasis on “deradicalizing” extremists. The Institute is an organization that aims to rehabilitate former terrorists.

“[Terrorism can be rooted out] because the grievances are not real, unlike in Palestine, where people witness their mother being hurt; or have seen their friends or fathers suffer acts of violence,” he said recently.

“Here, there were no real grievances after Poso and Ambon,” he said, referring to the sectarian conflict between Muslims and Christians between 1999 and 2002.

Since the 2002 Bali bombings, the Indonesian government has implemented a deradicalization program, which consists in using former Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) militants such as Malaysian Nasir Abas to talk to terror suspects and convicts in prison. After their release from prison, former terror suspects receive economic assistance to start a business. Huda noted however that there was much room to improve the deradicalization program in Indonesia.

According to the International Crisis Group (ICG) 2007 report on deradicalization in Indonesian prisons, the program succeeded in making two dozens of former JI member cooperate with the police.
However, the police have arrested more than 450 terror suspects, Noor Huda said, and around 200 have been released after serving sentences, noting that these men were prone to becoming recidivists.

Some former militants who followed the deradicalization program have returned to JI combatant activities. Urwah, a JI member who served four years behind bars for his involvement in the 2004 Australian Embassy bombing, took part in the JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels in July last year after his release from prison.

The family or children of former combatants who were arrested or killed should also be included in the deradicalization program, as they were also prone to radicalism, Noor Huda added.

“Look for instance at [the case of] Muhammad Jibril, Abu Jibril’s son,” Huda said. Muhammad was arrested for allegedly helping finance the attacks on the JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels in July last year. His father, now a cleric in Pamulang, was a treasurer along with Hambali, a key Jemaah Islamiyah financier currently held in the US. Jibril spent three years in prison for being a hardliner in the early 1980s. He played a role in supporting sectarian conflicts in Poso, Central Sulawesi, until he was arrested by the Malaysian government, which held him from 2001 and 2004 under the country’s Internal Security Act for promoting radicalism.

Huda noted there had not been any systematic reprogramming or deradicalizing of convicts in the last few years. “The important thing is implementing a curative approach [rather than repressive methods]. From the moment terror suspects are arrested, they should be enrolled in the deradicalization program, and we have to know what they’re up to after their release,” he said.

The ICG noted in its report that deradicalization programs had largely been viewed in isolation from other developments.

“There has been little attempt, for example, to assess whether more people are leaving jihadi organizations than joining them; whether the men joining the program were already disposed to reject bombing as a tactic; or whether the initiative has created any backlash in jihadi ranks. There has been almost no public discussion about where the appropriate balance should be between leniency toward perpetrators, in an effort to prevent future attacks, and justice for victims,” the report stated.

Huda said the task of deradicalizing former combatants should not only rest with the police. In the report he co-authored with Carl Ungerer for the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI), he wrote that the best way to counter radical ideology might be “to empower militant leaders [who are no longer hardliners] whom the fringe group continues to trust, such as Afghanistan or Philippines veterans, and who are now lying low”.

He added that civil society such as the Muslim organization Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah should be more active in countering radical ideologies.

Nahdlatul Ulama’s Hafidz Usman said the organization did not have a specific division in charge of approaching former terrorists, but worked with the government to support their program.

National Police deputy spokesman Brig, Gen. Sulistyo Ishaq concurred with Huda, saying the deradicalization process, in order to be effective, had to involve many parties. “The point is to give new understanding [perspective] to terrorist convicts and their families,” he said.

Prodita Sabarini, The Jakarta Post | Life | Fri, March 26 2010

Innocent victim: David Potter, a senior executive of PT Freeport Indonesia, is transferred to a hospital in Jakarta. Voices of the bombing victims are rarely heard in the media. JP/Nurhayati
Innocent victim: David Potter, a senior executive of PT Freeport Indonesia, is transferred to a hospital in Jakarta. Voices of the bombing victims are rarely heard in the media. JP/Nurhayati

Terrorist shootings: One down, comes a thousand

Early this month, the Indonesian audience was once again presented with images of police killing high profile terror suspects.

This time, the gruesome image the public was left with was the lopsided and open-mouthed head of alleged bomb-maker Dulmatin, shot by the police in an internet café in Pamulang, South Tangerang.
The Counterterrorism Police Detachment 88 squad also killed two men, believed to be Dulmatin’s bodyguards, as they tried to escape on a motorcycle in a separate raid in Pamulang.

The Indonesian police hunt for terror suspects has gained much praise as counterterrorism agents continue to successfully locate leaders of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) — a militant group responsible for several bombings in Indonesia, killing master bombers Azahari in 2005 and Noordin M. Top last year.

However, critics say the killings might not be beneficial in eradicating terrorism in the long run, as the assassinations might instead give JI sympathizers a reason to turn into active JI combatants, and valuable information on terror networks that could have been extracted from the combatants has been lost.

Police might also be held accountable for human rights abuse or extra judicial killings if ever the political climate changed and religious-based parties gained more power, Indonesian extremism expert Noor Huda Ismail said. “That’s really not good for the police [agents] who have worked hard to address terrorism at its roots,” he said.

According to local newspaper Tempo, a witness in Pamulang saw that the two men killed had
not opened fire on the police although they had physically resisted the arrest.

“The police should immobilize [the suspects] but shouldn’t necessarily have to kill them,” said Huda recently, who is also the executive director of the Institute of International Peace Building.

“The police — in their capacity as law enforcers — do not have the right to punish. They have the right to investigate. Taking a life away can be categorized as extra judicial killing,” he said.

Indonesian Police Watch chairman Neta S. Pane suggested the police was using terror raids as a diversion from political issues, like the Bank Century bailout case. “Every time there is a big issue, they use the raids to divert attention from the case,” he said.

“The raids are always dramatic and suspects always shot to death,” he said. “If we let this be, it will
have a negative impact on police performance in the future. Besides capturing terror suspects, they [police agents] become executors under the pretence that the suspect resisted arrest.”

Neta added that under Dai Bachtiar’s leadership, national police agents rarely shot dead terror suspects — unlike now, as witnessed by the police’s Detachment 88 counterterrorism unit recent terrorist shootings.

The police was able to capture Bali bombers Amrozi, Mukhlas and Imam Samudra alive in 2002. The three were tried and executed in 2008.

National Police deputy spokesman Brig. Gen. Sulistyo Ishaq said the police always aimed to arrest suspects alive, but “if we [police agents] are under threat, we will resort to force that can be accounted for in the eyes of the law”.

International Crisis Group expert Sidney Jones said that all police actions should be guided by human rights and respect for the law, but there were times when it is perfectly legitimate to use force, when the threat confronted by law enforcement officers requires it.

“But anytime anyone is killed in the course of a police operation, it is appropriate to ask questions about whether non-lethal tactics could have been used and whether the deaths in question could have been avoided.”

She also agreed it would be far more beneficial to capture suspects alive, because of all the information they could provide about terror networks.

Huda said killing suspects might cause the police to lose crucial intelligence information.

“We do not know when exactly Dulmatin returned; what he was doing here; who was helping him,” he said.

The police however recently revealed that Dulmatin, one of the masterminds of the 2002 Bali bombings, had left his hideout under the radical Philippines Abu Sayyaf group to help open up a new training camp — different from the usual JI camp — in Aceh.

Dulmatin and colleagues Umar Patek and Heru Kuncoro, who are still at large, had extensive knowledge of setting up camps in the middle of the jungle, gained from their experience helping Abu Sayyaf rebels in Mindanao, South Philippines.

Police killed two terror suspects in Aceh and arrested 31 people. They also seized several weapons from the suspects, including three M16 and two AK-47 automatic rifles, a handgun, 25 ammunition magazines and hundreds of rounds of ammunition. Three police officers were killed and eleven wounded in the raid.

“I think the fact that three police were killed and 11 wounded this time indicates they were facing a serious threat,” Jones said. “That said, I also think the police at all levels could benefit from more training in confronting ‘active shooters’.”

The National Police chief Gen. Bambang Hendarso Danuri explained that suspected terrorists had changed tactics from suicide bombing to armed warfare, as indicated by the actions of the group reportedly involved recently in a training camp in Aceh.

Huda believes counterterrorism activities should be carried out as one “whole package” or all encompassing, and include “deradicalization” — the process of persuading extremists to abandon violence. Without this, he said, terrorism will continue to be a problem.

The killings of high profile terror suspects by the police runs the risk of converting JI sympathizers into combatants, he added.

“There has been an internal raft in JI since the first Bali bombings in 2002. The majority does not condone the use of violence, but a small group does,” he said.

The passive majority of JI supports the small violent group. “In a sense, they will never tip off the police about the small group’s movement,” he said.

Repressive methods used by the police — such as the use of force and killing suspects — might trigger some of the passive supporters to join the movement to show solidarity.

“And this should be avoided,” he said.

Prodita Sabarini, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | Life | Fri, March 26 2010

Addressing the real problem: Supporters shout “God is Great” as they carry the body of militant Dulmatin in Petarukan village, Central Java. Besides gun downing the alleged terrorists, the government should consider implementing a deradicalization program involving former terrorist prisoners. JP/TARKO SUDIARNO
Addressing the real problem: Supporters shout “God is Great” as they carry the body of militant Dulmatin in Petarukan village, Central Java. Besides gun downing the alleged terrorists, the government should consider implementing a deradicalization program involving former terrorist prisoners. JP/TARKO SUDIARNO

Noor Huda Ismail: Changing the minds of ex-combatants

Courtesy of Noor Huda Ismail
Courtesy of Noor Huda Ismail

Noor Huda Ismail said he was once a hardliner. When he studied at Ngruki Islamic boarding school in Central Java, he aspired to join the jihad in Afghanistan.

He wanted Indonesia to be an Islamic state, and joined the Darul Islam – a hardline group Jemaah Islamiyah is said to have splintered from — to support the movement.

Now, the 38-year-old is a moderate Muslim, fighting terrorism by embracing ex-combatants, “de-radicalizing” them using a personal approach, training and courses. He founded the Institute of International Peace Building (Yayasan Prasasti Perdamaian) to support his mission.

The father of one also advises foreign oil companies on security risks, and provides expertise on terrorist movements in Indonesia. One of the reports he co-authored with Carl Ungerer, which predicted the possibility of a violent strike from extremists, was released 24 hours prior to the July hotel bombings in Jakarta.

Huda said counterterrorism should be dealt with as one package, from foiling plots, arresting and trying suspects, to deradicalizing them. The deradicalization process, Huda said, was still lacking in Indonesia. Although the police, collaborating with clerics and ex-militants, has carried out deradicalization programs in the past, Huda said those efforts were not sufficient.

Through the Institute of International Peace Building, he tries to approach ex-combatants, although he said his work was just a tiny portion of what needed to be done.

Since 1999, the police has arrested more than 450 terror suspects. Some of them were released after serving their sentences. These people, he said, could easily go back to their old activities unless they shifted paradigm.

Exposure to different views and more liberal ideologies help Huda become more moderate, he pointed out. He was also brought up in a secular family. In a 2005 opinion piece published in The Jakarta Post, he wrote that his secular father — who worked as a parole officer mainly responsible for handling Islamic militants opposing former president and dictator Soeharto — had enrolled him in Ngruki so he could find out more about the group.

His schooling in a pesantren (Islamic boarding school), made him despise the New Order, which repressed excessive use of group symbols. The pesantren leader Abu Bakar Ba’asyir left for Malaysia as the regime deemed his fervent support for an Islamic state as subversive. Huda said his father was given a hard time for not wanting to vote for the Golkar Party, while his mother was discriminated against for wearing a headscarf.

“I felt that under the New Order, Islam wasn’t given much room,” he said. The Ngruki pesantren taught students to fight evil and be fearless except to Allah, he said.

His life might have turned out differently had he gone to Afghanistan. He failed to fulfill his dream of training in the country most of the terrorists responsible for the Bali bombings and church bombings had graduated from.

But at that time, he wished he had been chosen, he said. “I wanted to go jihad as well, but they didn’t choose me. I wanted to go because joining the jihad would have meant becoming part of history. In Ngruki, they taught us what evil meant and I read books about the greatness of Allah. That inspired me,” he said.

The ustadz (religious teacher) selected pupils they considered most dedicated to join the jihad in Afghanistan against Russian soldiers, Huda said. He joked that perhaps his teachers decided not to choose him because he liked the daughter of one of the Kyai (teacher).

Having missed out on Afghanistan, Huda continued college after graduating from Ngruki.

After living an ascetic life in the dorms of Ngruki for six years, he returned to his hometown in Yogyakarta and studied Arabic literature at the Sunan Kalijaga State Islamic University Yogyakarta. At the same time, he enrolled in a Communications Major at the University of Gadjah Mada. He worked as a tourist guide to support himself, interacting with foreign tourists.

He also left Darul Islam, which he joined while he was in Ngruki, after the group split into Darul Islam and Jemaah Islamiyah, a more radical group seeking to install a pan-Islamic state across much of Southeast Asia.

His views on hardline Islamic movements changed after he started to work as a correspondent for the Washington Post in 2002. “Working as a journalist influenced me a lot because as reporters we had to be critical,” he said.

The first 2002 Bali bombings killed 202 people. Three years later, another bomb exploded killing 88 people. Working for the US publication, he interviewed his former school friends in prison, who ended up choosing a different path in life.

While studying International Security at St. Andrews University in Scotland, on a Chevening Award scholarship, Huda said the deradicalization process in North Ireland had impressed him.

“Ex-combatants are facilitated and given courses,” he said.

Upon his return, he founded the Institute of International Peace Building and started a deradicalization program.

“Right now, we only work with 10 ex-combatants,” he said. The ex-combatants, spread across Jakarta, Surakarta, Semarang and Surabaya have experienced life in prison. The absence of deradicalization programs in Indonesia, he said, was worrying.

He worked on a prawn culture with them, and taught them how to trade online. “It’s giving them a normal life,” he said. The institute also worked in eight prisons. He said the only way to prevent the ex-combatants from joining hardline movements again was to help them have a normal life again.

He chooses to deal with ex-combatants labeled as in the “gray” area.

“White JI [Jemaah Islamiyah combatants] use violent methods. There are gray JI, and there are black JI, who have changed sides and work with the police,” he said.

“My analysis concludes that these people are considered tainted. They’ve revealed the secrets of the group to the court and authorities are constantly watching them,” he said.

“They are not accepted in their small [extremist] groups and stigmatized in bigger groups [society]. They cannot fit in either environment,” he said, adding that desperation could lead them to return to their old habitat.

Ex-Jemaah Islamiyah member Nasir Abas, who now helps the police analyze the JI group, said he supported Huda’s personal approach.

“Being a former Ngruki student makes it easier for him to approach former combatants and persuade them to change their ways,” he said.

Nasir added that Huda and him were fighting the same war in a different way. “He takes a more personal approach while I work with the police.”

Huda is currently writing a book titled My Friend the Terrorist, which tells the story Utomo Pamungkas alias Fadlulah Hasan, who was sentenced to life imprisonment for being involved in the first Bali bombing.

For Huda, this is the way to fight against terrorism in Indonesia. Being a former student of Ngruki acquainted with some of the people involved in terrorist activities has made the issue personal to him.
Another reason for joining the fight against terrorism using a more personal approach?  His one-year-old son. “I don’t want him growing up to be a terrorist.”

Prodita Sabarini, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | People | Fri, March 26 2010