An integrated approach to arrested terror suspects in Indonesia

Jakarta – The so-called “war against terror” is a war of
ideologies. It can only be won by changing extremists’ beliefs in the use of
violence, an Indonesian expert in extremism says.

Noor Huda Ismail,
Executive Director of a private think tank which aims to rehabilitate former
terrorists, the Institute for International Peacebuilding , believes terrorism
can be rooted out of society, particularly in Indonesia, but that the government
and civil society should place more emphasis on “deradicalising” extremists.

Since the 2002 Bali bombings, the Indonesian government has implemented
a deradicalisation programme which consists of using former Jemaah Islamiyah
(Islamic Community, JI) militants such as Nasir Abas to talk to terror suspects
and convicts in prison. After their release from prison, these former terror
suspects receive economic assistance to start a business.

Huda notes,
however, that the programme still has much room for improvement. For example,
more than 450 terror suspects have been charged or tried in courts of law on
terrorism charges, 200 of which were released after serving sentences – but
these men are prone to recidivism.

According to “‘Deradicalisation’ and
Indonesian Prisons”, a 2007 report by the International Crisis Group (ICG), a
non-governmental organisation committed to preventing and resolving deadly
conflict, this programme has succeeded in encouraging two dozen former members
of the JI – a militant Muslim organisation with the goal of establishing an
Islamic state in Indonesia – to cooperate with the police. But other former
militants who were involved in the government’s deradicalisation programme have
again become involved in extremist activities with the JI.

For example,
Urwah, a JI member who served four years in prison for his involvement in the
2004 Australian Embassy bombing, took part in the JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton
hotel bombings in July last year following his release from

According to Huda, the families of former combatants who were
arrested or killed should also be involved in the deradicalisation programme, as
they are also prone to radicalism.

“For instance, look at Muhammad
Jibril, Abu Jibril’s son,” Huda said. Abu Jibril – now a cleric in Pamulang, a
small sub-district near Jakarta, was a treasurer for the JI.

Abu Jibril
spent three years in prison for being a hardliner in the early 1980s. He played
a role in supporting sectarian conflicts in Poso in 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. His son
Muhammad was arrested in August 2009 for allegedly helping finance the attacks
on the two hotels last year.

This example demonstrates how radicalism
can be passed on from parents to children.

Huda also noted that there had
not been any systematic “reprogramming” or deradicalising 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 deradicalisation programme, and we have to know what
actions they take after their release,” he said.

The ICG stated in its
report that deradicalisation programmes in Indonesia had largely been viewed in
isolation from other developments.

“There has been little attempt, for
example, to assess whether more people are leaving [extremist] 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 [extremists'] 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

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

He added that civil society organisations, such as the
popular mainstream Muslim organisations Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) and Muhammadiyah,
should be more active in countering radical ideologies that might be spreading
in local communities where these organisations are active.

NU’s executive
leader Hafidz Usman said the organisation did not have a specific division in
charge of approaching former terrorists, but has worked with the government to
support its deradicalisation programme.

National Police deputy spokesman
General Sulistyo Ishaq concurred with Huda, saying that in order to be
effective, the deradicalisation process had to involve many of the relevant
parties but, overall, “the point is to offer a new [perspective] to terrorist
convicts and their families.”

This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) with
permission from The Jakarta Post.

  • Imad K

    Having lived in Indonesia, i try to keep in touch with what’s happening there. I have certainly heard about the rehabilitation programs for terrorists. I think that it’s a great idea, and it’s good that Singapore as well is using their own rehabilitation programs for terrorists.

    Granted, i had little thought about them, but i don’t disagree with what Noor Huda Ismail had said in this article.