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Will Indonesia’s ban against IS-linked JAD dismantle the group?

Police escort the Indonesian leader of Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD), Zainal Ansori (centre), during his recent trial in Jakarta. Bagus Indahono/EPA

Indonesia has banned Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD), a homegrown terrorist group affiliated with Islamic State (IS), in a recent court ruling.

The ruling is the first to implement the newly issued Antiterrorism Law. The JAD’s indictment is expected to be followed with similar bans against other IS-affiliated organisations, such as Jamaah Ansharut Khalifah.

JAD is the second terrorist organisation to be banned by the court. In 2008, the South Jakarta District Court banned Jamaah Islamiyah (JI), an al-Qaeda-linked group that orchestrated the deadly 2002 bombings in Bali.

However, despite the court ruling, JI still managed to launch a large-scale terror attack in Jakarta in 2009. This raises questions over the effectiveness of such court rulings in dismantling terrorist organisations in Indonesia.

Understanding JAD

JAD is an umbrella group for Islamic State sympathisers in Indonesia. It was established through a meeting in Batu, Malang, East Java, in November 2015. The meeting appointed a former leader of the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) in Lamongan, East Java, Zainal Anshori, as the chief. JAD’s initiator, Aman Abdurrahman, became its spiritual leader.

Unlike JI, with its collective decision-making process, JAD has a loose chain of command. JAD members can take independent actions without the consent of top leadership.

JAD’s operation is divided into regions, branches and cells across the country. Its membership structure is unclear as the line between formal JAD members and its sympathisers is blurred.

JAD regularly held Quran recital meetings for people who shared similar ideologies and showed sympathy for the cause. Police claim that three families linked to a series of attacks in East Java earlier this year were part of JAD.

The families had attended one of the JAD meetings organised by Cholid Abu Bakar. Cholid is an IS sympathiser who planned to go to Syria but was arrested and deported back to Indonesia in 2017. If you look at JAD’s organisational structure, Cholid is nowhere to be seen.

Due to its fluid organisational structure, banning JAD might not be effective. First, sympathisers could still launch individual attacks without specific instructions from JAD key figures. Second, they could form a new splinter group to evade legal prosecutions.

The police should also be careful when conducting operations against terrorist suspects who are believed to be affiliated with JAD. Such actions must be based on strong evidence, otherwise these could potentially backfire.

JAD may use any baseless persecution to galvanise support from public. Careless investigations may fuel resentment among JAD members at grassroots level. The dissatisfied members might be provoked to join other terrorist activities, which will probably be hard to control due to JAD’s unclear organisation structure.

Prison management

Since the 2018 Antiterrorism Law was issued, the police have arrested 283 alleged JAD members. They were arrested as terrorist suspects in the aftermath of bomb attacks in Surabaya, East Java.

The police have detained these suspects in local police stations. However, the prisons’ limited capacity may pose a challenge in the future.

Therefore, a special prison for terrorist inmates is being built in Cikeas, Bogor, West Java, in anticipation of a surge in terrorist arrests. The prison is designed to house 340 inmates and is scheduled for completion by the end of 2018.

The national police chief, Tito Karnavian, said the prison would use Spain’s container system to hasten its construction.

The prison will be a maximum-security complex that restricts interactions between inmates and visitors, including family. It is built to prevent terrorist inmates from orchestrating terror attacks, or radicalising and recruiting others.

However, such isolation risks intensifying the inmates’ feeling of marginalisation. This would further legitimate their us-versus-them belief.

Deradicalisation programmes

Apart from imprisonment, the biggest challenge for terrorist inmates is to provide them with deradicalisation programmes. A prison sentence is a short-term solution for terrorist inmates while deradicalisation programmes are long-term.

Initial efforts to distance inmates from a radical environment can start within prison, such as providing alternative social networks.

Omar Patek, a JI member, stated that he altered his radical beliefs due to his interaction with his family and prison staff. Prison staff can help deradicalise inmates by building mutual trust. Therefore, psychological training for the staff is important so they know how to build effective communication with terrorist inmates.

Neutralising JAD

Arresting JAD members or banning the group is ineffective at completely neutralising JAD’s influence because its weakness is not in the organisation’s structure, but in its ideology.

Therefore, the best way for the Indonesian government to counter JAD is through deradicalisation programmes.

However, experts have criticised Indonesia’s deradicalisation programmes. Solahudin, a researcher from Universitas Indonesia’s Center for Terrorism Studies and Social Conflict, has pointed out that the National Counter-terrorism Agency (BNPT)‘s deradicalisation programmes are not optimal.

He also criticised the programmes for targeting only individuals who are no longer involved in violent acts.

The government should find a more effective way to approach radicalised individuals to tame their radical thinking.

While an ideological debate remains challenging, social and psychological efforts can become a solution at the forefront. These efforts include providing 24-hour personal mentors to offer support when the radicalised individuals encounter problems.

This approach has proved effective at the Ministry of Social Affairs’ social shelters that host deportees. Highly radicalised deportees at first refused to communicate with social workers, but they became more open due to social workers’ patience and 24-hour companionship.

The Surabaya bombings demonstrated a worrying trend of women and children being used as suicide bombers. The government should reform its policy to prevent the spread of radical ideologies in any group. To monitor radical movements at grassroots level, the government should provide support for women’s organisations through online and offline engagement.

Indonesia can also address this issue via the education system. The government can emphasise a religious curriculum that promotes tolerance. The children of the Surabaya church bombings perpetrators attended normal schools despite some research suggesting that JAD members send their children to JAD’s Islamic boarding school or homeschooling.

An improved religious curriculum, designed to promote tolerance at schools, might be effective in countering radical teachings at home.

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