The nature and extent of the jihadist threat in Southeast Asia was not fully understood until well after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States. In the aftermath of those attacks, states in Southeast Asia appeared to move quickly to quash the putative threats in their own countries. Both the Singaporean and Malaysian authorities, for example, detained a number of suspected Islamist militants in late 2001.1 Nevertheless, official and academic opinion remained for at least another year largely indifferent to the transnational terrorist network that had established itself in Southeast Asia.2 This indifference and neglect was all the more surprising given the often intrusive intelligence agencies in many Southeast Asian countries. However, these too apparently failed to identify the evolving threat in their midst and the growing danger jihadism posed to regional order.3 The October 2002 nightclub bombings in Bali, Indonesia, which killed 202 people, changed all of this. Those attacks brought to the world’s attention the existence of a sophisticated, regionally-networked web of jihadist activity in Southeast Asia.
Prior to 9/11, regional intelligence cooperation was poor, and there was little awareness of or attention paid to the character and evolution of regional crime and terror networks. In particular, there existed a collective nescience concerning the growing ideological links between the most militant jihadist grouping in Southeast Asia, Jemaah Islamiah (JI), and the globalizing network of networks of Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda.4 One objective of this essay, therefore, is to indicate the process by which al-Qaeda and its regional affiliates attempted to draw localized separatist struggles in Southeast Asia into an evolving but loose network of transnational jihadism. To illustrate how this structure has advanced, we shall show how JI developed through kin groups, marital alliances, cliques, and radical pesantren (religious schools). Furthermore, we will examine the mix of counterterror strategies that have since 2003 successfully disrupted the organization and its network.
Exploring this evolving, networked organization in Southeast Asia also helps to illustrate a broader point about the character of modern jihadism. Long before it was appropriate to speak of an entity called al-Qaeda or the emergence of Osama bin Laden as its figurehead, those inspired by an Islamist, theo-political vision were already thinking strategically in terms of regional and transnational operations and their political effects. In Southeast Asia, we can trace this vision, if not also the strategy, back to the Darul Islam, or “Islamic Realm,” movement. The vision born from Darul Islam’s struggle against Dutch colonial rule was later influenced by Muslim Brotherhood ideologists like Said Qutb5 and the Pakistani founder of Jaamat-i-Islami Abul ala Maududi. In time, the ideas of Abdullah Azzam (Osama bin Laden’s ideological mentor, the so-called “Emir of Jihad”) also shaped the evolution of Islamist thinking in Southeast Asia.6 In fact, long before the end of the anti-Soviet jihadist struggle in Afghanistan, which is often cited as the first theater in which the contemporary Islamist internationale emerged,7 pan-Islamist thinkers conceived resistance to modern jahiliyya (the state of ignorance) as a unified, global struggle that transcended local, state, and regional concerns. As Richard Engel has argued, the story of al-Qaeda is essentially about how “bin Laden tried to align with local militant groups with country-specific grievances to increase his global reach and influence.”8 In this context, JI provides an important case study of how a regional group came to share features of al-Qaeda’s strategic thinking and developed links to it in the course of the 1990s-while at the same time retaining its own distinctive organization, character, and practice. Moreover, examining JI’s origins, development, and disruption also provides an assessment of the relative importance of ideology, informality, and structure to sustaining organizations like JI that produce violence for strategic ends.
Examining JI, therefore, further allows us to test explanations that account for the behavior of contemporary violent jihadist organizations. In particular, we can analyze the extent to which the JI case supports the prevailing organizational approach to so-called terrorist behavior, which conceives terrorism as a definable and distinctive product rendered by groups or “firms.” From this perspective, analysts often assume terrorist organizations either act instrumentally, using violence as a tacit form of bargaining to achieve political goals, or, alternatively, that they act “expressively,” reflecting a need to “communicate” their politics in a particular and notably violent way.
In this regard, following Martha Crenshaw who considered terrorist violence “the product of the internal dynamics of the organization,” Jessica Stern and Amit Modi contend that the primary goal of such organizations is survival.9 The view of Stern and Modi, the endogenous, sociological perspective, rejects the “assumption that jihadist groups are most profitably categorized according to their ideology or mission.” More precisely, “the group’s ideology is just one of many variables a group can control in order to enhance its survivability. Indeed, one of the requirements for long-term survival is a flexible mission.”10 Audrey Kurth Cronin, who examines how so-called terrorism campaigns end- whether by decapitation, negotiation, strategic success, marginalization, repression, or reorientation-describes al-Qaeda as a remarkably agile organization with a fluid operational structure based on “a common mission statement and brilliant media campaign rather than standard operating procedures and a pervasive organizational structure.”11
Yet, although al-Qaeda’s tripartite structure of core, network, and periphery functions more like a social movement than a classic insurgent group, Cronin contends that “attraction to the mission or the ideology is a necessary but not a sufficient condition” in order to explain its network of associations.12 From a related sociological perspective, Marc Sageman maintains that al-Qaeda and its affiliates like JI function as a “global salafi jihad,” which is best viewed as “a social movement consisting of a set of more or less formal organizations linked in patterns of interaction.”13 Individual “hubs” form the basis of an informal, small world network that can resist “fragmentation because of its dense interconnectivity.” Consequently, “a significant fraction of nodes can be randomly removed without much impact on its integrity.”14
This network-centric approach to violent Islamist organizations, like the more conventional organizational approaches, also challenges the “theses of direct ideological appeals,” emphasizing instead “the importance of social bonds during recruitment and conversion.”15 Max Abrahms perhaps summarizes this increasingly orthodox line of thought best, asserting that
...the preponderance of theoretical and empirical evidence is that people participate in terrorist organizations not to achieve their official political platforms, but to develop strong affective ties with fellow terrorists-an incentive structure reflected in the trade-offs terrorist organizations typically make to maintain their survival.16
By examining the JI’s evolution as an organizational hub within the al-Qaeda network, we can thus evaluate whether Abrahms’ somewhat adventurous claim is indeed true. In other words, is ideology or organization central to the survival of the group? Conversely, through the history of JI, we examine how such an organization might end, assessing what factors including decapitation, reorientation, and counter-radicalization contributed to its disruption. In order to do this we shall first trace the formation of JI, exploring the conditions that facilitated its organization and development up to 2002.
The Sources of the Organization
The roots of JI and the regional network it established may be traced to the 1970s and to two ethno-religious struggles in the Philippines and Indonesia. The guerrilla groups orchestrating these geographically separate struggles were eventually linked under the auspices of al-Qaeda in the early 1990s, when an increasingly interconnected global economy enabled the movement to emerge on an equally global scale.17
JI originated from a discontented faction within the proscribed Indonesian Islamist movement, Darul Islam (DI). After being exiled in Malaysia after 1985, the DI faction formed the organization al-Jamaah al-Islamiyyah, or the Islamic Society, in 1993 with the ultimate goal of establishing an Islamic state in President Suharto’s New Order Indonesia.18 Through links and exposure to the emerging Islamist internationale, thanks to Southeast Asian participation as Mujahedeen in the anti-Soviet Afghan struggle, the Indonesian JI leadership began to shift focus away from establishing an Islamic state in Indonesia to a wider, pan-Islamic agenda. This shift in strategic focus-which was primarily a consequence of changing ideology, rather than flexibility of mission-was the basis of a split that emerged between the founder of JI, Abdullah Sungkar, and the Indonesian-based DI leader, Ajengan Masduki. First, we will expose this broadening of the ideological and strategic mission through an exploration of the Indonesian and Malaysian complex that formed JI. Then, we will examine the movement’s organizational links to the very differently organized groups that evolved in the 1970s in the Southern Philippines-groups with whom JI allied rather than integrated with during the course of the 1990s for the purpose of training, education, and strategic force multiplication.
The Indonesian connection
In the 1990s the international press portrayed Southeast Asian Islam as politically moderate, genuinely friendly toward the West, and economically and developmentally focused.19 This view seemed to capture the spirit of modern Malaysia under the dynamic “Malaysia Boleh!“ (Malaysia Can Do It!) leadership of Mahathir Mohammad and modern Indonesia, a secular, nationalist state ruled along authoritarian, corporatist lines by Suharto’s New Order (1966-1998). During the New Order era, Indonesia’s majority Muslim population was represented mainly by two officially sanctioned organizations, the Nahdlatul Ulama (Islamic Scholars Awakening) and Muhammadiyah (Followers of Muhammad). With a combined membership of over seventy million, the leaders of these organizations promoted a politically quiescent, secularized, and tolerant Islamic doctrine of religious self-understanding.20 Moreover, the concerns of these religious movements reflected national and practical concerns, even after Indonesia’s democratic transformation. As the late Abdurrahman Wahid, the former Nadhlatul leader and Indonesia’s first democratically elected president, observed in 2007, the New Order as well as its successor regime are preoccupied with “national development,” and “give attention to only one thing, and that is [economic] growth.”21
This more secularized understanding of religion notwithstanding, postcolonial Indonesia also incubated a more radical form of political Islam, which dated from the era of national resistance to Dutch colonial rule. Participation in the protracted twentieth-century struggles to liberate Indonesia from Dutch, Japanese, and once again Dutch rule after 1945 led to Maridjan Kartosuwijoro’s Darul Islam (DI) movement to propose an Islamic constitution for the newly liberated Indonesian state. When the post-independence Indonesian government refused Islam a significant political or constitutional role, Kartosuwijoro formed the Tentera Islam Indonesia, or Islamic Indonesian Army, in West Java in 1948 to contest the secular nationalist Marhaenisme22 promoted by Indonesia’s first leader, President Sukarno. For the next thirteen years the DI’s militias conducted a rebellion across the archipelago that culminated in Kartosuwijoro’s arrest in 1962. The remnants of DI went on to enjoy a checkered relationship with the anti-communist New Order regime that ultimately replaced Sukarno in 1966. General Ali Moertopo, head of the New Order’s special operations, briefly reconstituted DI after the fall of Saigon in 1975 to counter the potential revival of the Partai Kommunis Indonesia (PKI), or Communist Party of Indonesia.
Later, the government dismantled DI’s paramilitary wing, Komando Jihad (Jihad Commandos), in 1977. Although some authors have linked Komando Jihad to a government attempt at destabilizing and discrediting moderate Muslim opposition to the New Order,23 Komando Jihad still shared the uncompromising theology, and geographical and family ties to, the founders of the DI movement. Among the 185 militants arrested in 1977 were Shaykh Abu Bakar Bashir and Abdullah Sungkar, who in 1971 had established the al-Mukmin pesantren, or religious school, near Solo, Central Java.24 This pesantren would later form the basis for what Sidney Jones has termed “Ngruki Network,” which played the leading role in promulgating DI’s and, subsequently, Jemaah Islamiyya’s political vision of an Islamic state across the archipelago.25
From the outset, both Bashir and Sungkar rejected the secular, inclusive, and corporatist New Order ideology of Pancasila (Five Principles), and they railed incessantly against the regime.26 Tried in 1982 and sentenced to nine years in prison for subversion, the pair escaped to the more religiously congenial Malaysia in 1985. With the financial assistance of sympathetic Malay businessmen, Bashir and Sungkar, together with an al-Mukmin graduate named Abu Jibril, established a school, hospital, and small Islamic community in the southern Malaysian state of Johor. The Lukmanul Hakiem school in Johor, like al-Mukmin in Solo, came to play a crucial role in both the ideological formation of and recruitment for the modern jihadist movement in Southeast Asia. Mukhlas, another al-Mukmin graduate and Afghan veteran, opened the Lukmanul school in 1991, and it soon became a center of gravity in the region for radicalism. Noordin Top-who would after the 2002 Bali bombings emerge as the leader of the Malaysian militant faction of JI-as well as his mentor, Dr. Azahari Husin, were in charge of organizing the Lukamanul school’s curriculum before Malaysian authorities eventually closed the school in 2001.27
In 1993, the developing Malaysian network broke with their former DI mentors in Indonesia along specifically ideological lines. As Indonesia’s former President Abdurrahman Wahid observed, JI was essentially a Malaysian creation. From this period, the Malaysian entity with Sungkar as its emir became formally known as “Al-Jamaah al-Islamiyyah.” The JI organization formulated at this time a document describing the general guidelines of its struggle. Known as the Pedoman Umum Perjuangan al Jemaah al Islamiyyah (PUPJI, “General Guide for the Struggle of Al-Jamaah Al-Islamiyyah”), the guidelines required all true Muslims and members of the group to strive to establish a daulah Islamiah (Islamic state) and identified the correct path or dakwah (Islamic missionary work) to achieve it. This required promoting education, enjoining good, forbidding evil, and ultimately, if necessary, armed jihad. Initially, the path mainly required resistance to the corrupt New Order regime in Indonesia. Later, this resistance call would come to include struggling against the “pharaohnic” rule of the governments in Singapore, Malaysia, and the Philippines. Abu Jibril, one of the lead architects of this expansive strategy, envisaged the eventual transformation of Southeast Asia into a “Daulah Islam Nusantara,” or an Islamic archipelago.28
The PUPJI outlined an ambitious three-stage process of political transformation. The first stage required preparation to establish the daulah, or the Islamic state; the second required the organization of the daulah; and the final stage required the reformed Islamic state to lead the Muslim world into a politically integrated, caliphate-centered, and religiously-inspired epoch. The crucial first step in this transformative process required a vanguard (Jemaah, or group) with a righteous or correct leadership carefully grooming its membership. JI’s initial leadership included Sungkar, Bashir, Faiz Bafana (who had migrated to the group from Jakarta), and Abu Jibril. Another Javanese cleric, Nurjaman Riduan Isamuddin, also known as Hambali, had joined them in the 1980s. Hambali was a disciple of Sungkar, and as a consequence of Sungkar’s mentoring was selected to train with the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan and Pakistan between 1986 and 1987.29
In Peshawar through the good offices of Abdullah Azzam’s MaK, the precursor of al-Qaeda, Hambali along with Bafana and approximately fifty graduates of the Jemaah project networked with an international movement of radicals inspired by the Mujahedeen’s struggle against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. These fighters included Zulkarnaen, who subsequently led JI’s military wing, as well as a desultory mixture of Southeast Asians from Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines. Hambali returned to Malaysia briefly in 1987 before leaving for Mindanao in the Philippines where he developed links with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and their tactically important Abubakar training camp in Southern Mindanao.
In the course of the 1990s, JI evolved into an ideological hybrid that derived its theology and strategy in part from the Egyptian Islamic jihadi groups Gamaa al-Islamiyah al-Masri (Al-Masri Islamic Group) and al-Islamiyah al-Jihad al-Masri (Al-Masri Islamic Jihad),30 as well as from its own DI-influenced indigenous resources. JI entertained Ayman al-Zawahiri in Malaysia in the mid-1990s, and Sungkar and Bashir both visited Pakistan. Al-Zawahiri was al-Qaeda’s number two and the theorist of globalizing the Islamist struggle against kuffar (infidel) regimes. Sungkar also met bin Laden on three occasions between 1990 and 1997. Moreover, by 1999 Hambali had emerged as an increasingly significant figure on al-Qaeda’s Military Command Council.31
These personal ties in this small multinational network developed as a consequence of shared and intensifying ideological understanding. Rather than demonstrating mission flexibility or a contingent relationship formed from close social bonds, the intensification and increasingly global ambitions of their shared ideology constituted for both groups the basis of their cooperation as well the cause of the breach between DI and JI.
It was also in the course of the 1990s that Sungkar, Abu Jibril, Hambali, Azahari Hussin, Noordin Top, and others formed the Kumpulan Mujahidin Malaysia (KMM, or Malaysian Mujahideed Movement) franchise along with elements from earlier Malay postcolonial era Islamist groups that had violent Gnostic tendencies.32 The Malaysian arm of JI also actively pursued its regional strategy of forging alliances with groups that shared its ideology and jihadist modus operandi. In the Philippines, for example, it established links with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the recently-formed Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) splinter group, Abu Sayyaf (Sword of God).
The PUPJI further outlined the structure of the organization. As emir, Abdullah Sungkar presided over and appointed a governing council (Markaz). In 1998 the Markaz consisted of Sungkar, Bashir, Mukhlas, Abu Rusdan (the son of a jailed DI activist), and Zulkarnaen. This council took responsibility for education, training, fund-raising and internationalization of their plans. The central command of the council oversaw four regional spheres of operation known as mantiqi.33 Hambali was responsible for Mantiqi 1, which was comprised of Malaysia and Singapore. Fati, an Indonesian, headed Mantiqi 2, which extended across Western Indonesia. Nasir Abbas, Mukhlas’ brother-in-law, assumed responsibility for Mantiqi 3, which included the Philippine province of Mindanao, Indonesian Sulawesi, and the West Malaysian state of Sabah. Meanwhile the al-Mukmin graduate, Abdul Rahim Ayub, who married an Australian Protestant convert to Islam, Rabiah Hutchinson, led Mantiqi 4, comprised of Papua and Australia.34 The mantiqis were subdivided into wakalahs, or delegated agencies. Thus Mantiqi 1 consisted of four wakalahs-Perak, Johor, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore-and each of these possessed its own internal command structure.
According to Sidney Jones’ International Crisis Group report, it is plausible to view this structure as essentially military with “brigades (mantiqi), battalions (wakalah), companies (khatibah), platoons (quirdas), and squads (Fiah).”35 JI also possessed at least one special operations group (Laskar Khos), which would later be responsible for the 2003 Marriott Hotel bombing in Jakarta. Despite the hierarchical character of the organization, which rendered it ultimately more friable than the al-Qaeda movement, the Mantiqi structure nevertheless allowed for a considerable degree of regional latitude in both planning and operations.
After 1998, as JI’s hierarchical organizational structure further took shape, links between JI and the ongoing jihad in the Philippines developed dramatically. Mantiqi 1 sent groups of Malaysians and Singaporeans to MILF training camps. Al-Mukmin graduate Fathur Rahman al-Ghozi became the primary JI contact for both MILF and Abu Sayyaf.36 Al-Ghozi had made at least two training trips to Afghanistan to further his studies. At the same time, contacts between JI and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan also appreciably deepened. Hambali notably developed ties with Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, al-Qaeda’s man in the Philippines, while several JI personnel regularly visited Kabul.
Consequently, JI was well-poised to act in 1997 when the Asian Financial Crisis struck. The crisis undermined the legitimacy of the New Order regime in Indonesia and damaged the authority of the United Malay National Organization (UMNO)-led multiethnic coalition that had governed the Malaysian federation since its inception in 1963. JI and its affiliates subsequently began to exploit regional political and economic uncertainty in the interests of jihad against both the secular enemy within and the far enemy in Washington.
In this context, JI Malaysia engineered a crucial connection between al-Qaeda and KMM that facilitated the 9/11 attack. At this juncture, Yazid Sufaat, a former Malaysian army officer who by the 1990s had significant business interests tied to companies in Kuala Lumpur (such as Green Laboratories and Infocus Technologies), became a significant benefactor of Malaysian Islamism.37 In January 2000, Sufaat hosted the Pentagon hijackers Khalid Al-Midhar and Nawaq Alhamzi.38 Later, in October 2000, he met with Zacarias Moussaoui in the same condominium. At this meeting he provided Moussaoui with funds and papers to enter the United States as an Infocus Technologies “marketing consultant.” Moussaoui was later tried and convicted in the U.S. for his role in the September 11 attacks. Also in October 2000, Sufaat purchased four tons of ammonium nitrate for Fathur Rahman al-Ghozi to carry out a regional bombing campaign (in March 2003 Malaysian police found most of the explosives stashed in a plantation near Muar).39
Over the same period, the Malaysian connection extended its reach into Singapore via mosques across the causeway in Johor Baru. Mas Selamat Kastari oversaw the Singapore link while Ibrahim Maidin coordinated the JI cell in the city-state. Ibrahim Maidin had spent three weeks training in Afghanistan in 1993 and had in 1999 written to Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar, the head of the Taliban in Afghanistan, seeking spiritual and ideological guidance.40 From the early 1990s Maidin held religious classes in Singapore, which doubled as a recruitment center for the JI cells he established there.41
The collapse of Suharto’s New Order regime in 1998 further facilitated the extension of regional and international connections and operations. By the end of 1998, Sungkar, Bashir, Hambali, and Abu Jibril left Malaysia and returned to Indonesia to organize and reinvigorate the jihad there. In other words, regional political disorder and economic uncertainty contributed an important variable, as we shall subsequently show, to the development of JI’s operational outreach and its ideological appeal.
In 1999, however, Sungkar died and Bashir assumed the role of emir. Sungkar’s loss, which was unremarked at the time and neglected in later accounts, significantly affected group cohesion, occasioning a developing factionalism in the JI leadership group that volatized the organization particularly after the Bali bombings of 2002. Those associated with the comparatively less militant Bashir faction increasingly identified and promulgated a non-violent political route to achieving an Islamic state. In August 2000 Bashir established the Majlis Mujahedeen Indonesia (MMI, Indonesia Mujahideen Council) in Jakarta to advance cooperation among ideologically like-minded Indonesian Islamist groups such as the Front Pembela Islam (Islamic Defenders Front) and the recently established regional branch of the international Islamist movement, Hizb-ut Tahrir (Party of Liberation).42 By contrast, the more militant members of Hambali’s Mantiqi 1 faction found Bashir’s political links and his ties to the former Indonesian Deputy President Hamzah Haz antithetical to Sungkar’s PUPJI and the secretive, underground, violent, vanguard strategy of resistance and jihad that the guidelines supported. It should, however, be emphasized that this evolving split affected tactics rather than the overall strategy or worldview of the radicals. Both Bashir and Hambali promulgated Islamist ideas, and despite Bashir’s promotion of a more robust political agenda, he never disavowed the use of violence-although he might dissimulate it, subscribing to the casuistic principle that “deception in war is valid.”43
Despite the evolving disagreement over tactics and personalities, the relative openness of Indonesian politics after 1998 and the collapse of internal security coordination, especially during the brief presidency of moderate Islamic leader Abdurrahman Wahid between 1999 and 2001, enabled JI in Indonesia to consolidate linkages with cells in Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore. In 2000, JI created Rabitat ul-Mujahideen (Legion of Mujahideen), an umbrella of Islamist groups conducting armed struggle against secular regimes in the region. The putative network included MILF and Abu Sayyaf in the Philippines, Rohingya Solidarity Organization in Burma/Myanmar, Gerakan Aceh Merdeka (GAM, Free Aceh Movement), and Jemaah Salafayya (Salafist Group) in Thailand.
Significantly, while links with the Philippines and Malaysia flourished, GAM ultimately rejected JI’s overtures. At the same time, the long-standing Pattani United Liberation Organization (PULO) separatists’ resistance in Southern Thailand restricted JI’s influence to a minimum and resisted incorporation into a regional jihadist enterprise. Similarly in Indonesia itself, Jafar Umar Thalib’s Laskar Jihad (Army of Jihad), a Javanese group devoted to the Islamist struggle against Christians in Sulawesi, also rejected JI’s advances. Although Jafar fell out spectacularly with what he considered Abu Jibril’s self-aggrandizing behavior towards the Sulawesi jihad, their disagreement was primarily over strategy and not merely a clash of personality. This constituted the crucial variable explaining Laskar Jihad’s rejection of JI’s overtures. Analogously, the leadership of the insurgencies in both Southern Thailand and Aceh also saw little strategic value in networking with JI or al-Qaeda to advance their strategically limited goal of achieving liberation from the postcolonial arrangements that constrained their respective peoples. In the same way, Laskar Jihad sought to maintain and extend Islamism in Sulawesi, and Jafar thus rejected cooption into a regional, global campaign. In other words, strategy and ideology ultimately trumped social connections in the development of JI.
By contrast, in the Philippines and Malaysia a shared ideological vision adumbrated by close personal contacts advanced the integration of regional strategy into a wider, transnational Islamist agenda. In this context, the roles played by key al-Qaeda figures were providential. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed regularly visited the Philippines where Ramzi Youssef, the first World Trade Center bomber, was based. With him in the Philippines was Hambali, who coordinated JI’s regional strategic thinking and who, as mentioned above, also held a significant position on the Military Command Council of al-Qaeda. The political uncertainty that gripped Indonesia after the 1997 financial crisis particularly facilitated these developments The Indonesian armed forces, the TNI, responsible under the New Order for the dual function (dwifungsi) of external security and for preserving national integrity, lost its privileged political role as well as its political autonomy after 1998. It also suffered from internal divisions. Meanwhile, the Kepolisan Negara Republik Indonesia (Indonesia National Police) (POLRI), which after 1998 assumed responsibility for national security, was unprepared and under-resourced for the task of maintaining internal security.
The JI and the MMI consequently exploited the uncertain transition in internal security arrangements to recruit fighters and sponsor inter-communal violence in Ambon, Maluku, and Sulawesi. Moreover, after the Philippine military overran Camp Abubakar in Mindanao, JI had, in this relatively short period, acquired the resources and capacity to establish its own training camps in Poso, Central Sulawesi by 2000. In December the same year, Hambali organized attacks on Christian churches across Java-the most widespread terror attacks in Indonesian history, which bore the al-Qaeda signature of multiple coordinated targeting.44 Involved in Hambali’s Indonesian terror campaign were al-Mukmin graduates Mukhlas, who also operated under the nom de guerre Ali Gufron, Imam Samudra and Mukhlas’ brother, Amrozi bin Nurhasyim. The same team was also involved in bombing a church in Batam in January 2001. By 2001, Hambali had established himself as the effective chief executive officer for JI terror operations, coordinating a network within the wider JI and MMI franchises. This militant tendency within JI reached the apex of both its power and regional influence in early 2002.45
To sum up, the evolution of JI as a terror organization required close interpersonal ties, as well as historic links to an Islamist ideology of a local provenance. Nevertheless, it was the projection of that ideology onto a global canvas, together with the strategy necessary to achieve it, that drove JI first as a school and then as a regional movement with an increasing commitment to violence to define itself as a distinctive organization. Moreover, the political crisis engendered by the financial meltdown of the region after 1997 provided the contingent circumstances for the group to flourish, despite growing factionalism and interpersonal friction within the hierarchically ordered group.
The Philippine connection
Although JI is essentially a Malaysian-Indonesian creation, after 1998 it developed a capacity to integrate operations across Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, and the Philippines. The Philippine connection in Mindanao, with its long-standing Moro resistance movement against the Catholic Philippine state, was particularly important for both JI and al-Qaeda’s regional force multiplication. The long established MILF training camp, Abubakar, played a vital role in the education and training of successive generations of Mujahideen, and al-Qaeda early recognized the importance of Moro separatism to transnational strategic thinking. Sustained Moro resistance dates from the 1950s, but it became increasingly internationally networked in the course of the 1970s with the emergence of the MILF and later with Abu Sayyaf, the violent splinter group that broke away from the MNLF in 1991. (The precise circumstances surrounding Abu Sayyaf’s emergence remain somewhat obscure.)46
From the late 1980s, both MILF and, after 1991, Abu Sayyaf received direct support from al-Qaeda. In 1988 Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, Osama bin Laden’s brother-in-law, established a number of businesses in Manila that supplied financial and logistical support to Abu Sayyaf and MILF.47 Khalifa’s front organizations included E.T. Dizon Travel-active in shipping goods between the Philippines, Malaysia, the Netherlands, and Saudi Arabia-as well as Dizon Realty. Khalifa also established non-governmental organizations and charities that laundered money for local resistance like the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO).48 Through these organizations Khalifa established further links to Libya and the Groupe Islamique Armée (Islamic Army Group) in Algeria. Khalifa’s philanthropy also enabled Abu Sayyaf personnel to study at Madaris in Pakistan. Khalifa left Manila in 1995.
The revenues from these enterprises also financed training centers like camp Abubakar in Mindanao in the Southern Philippines.49 Until the Philippine army overran it in 2000, the camp provided instruction for explosives and assassination techniques. By the mid-1990s the camp regularly attracted Mujahideen expertise from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Algeria to train local militants.50 In 1998, al-Qaeda sent a Sudanese colonel, Ahmad al-Gamen, to Mindanao to train MILF members to use explosives and commando techniques.51 The process was two-way. In 2002, the former leader of the counterterrorism task force of the Philippine National Police, Senior Superintendent Rodolfo Mendoza, observed that, “there were foreign nationals like French Algerians, Egyptians, and Pakistanis who were trained by Filipinos inside Camp Abubakar.”52 Camp Abubakar maintained its international profile and was internally sub-divided into Algerian, Palestinian, and other sections. From 1996 the Indonesian JI contingent trained within the sprawling complex of Camp Hudaibayah. Hudaibayah was in turn divided into “tribes” known as Camp Solo, Camp Banten, and Camp Sulawesi.
In 1998 and 1999, while the Abubakar complex still remained in operation, bin Laden facilitated links between the Algerian GIA and the MILF’s leader, Salamat Hashim.53 The Philippine Directorate of Intelligence maintained that “sometime last mid-February 1999 Osama bin Laden reportedly contacted separately MILF chairman Salamat and the Algerian leader Hassan Hattab. Bin Laden reportedly sought the assistance of Salamat in establishing new camps in Mindanao and instructed Hattab to start operations.”54
Prior to this development as early as 1991, Khalifa had forged particularly close ties with Abdulrajak Janjalani, the founder of Abu Sayyaf. Janjalani, a former schoolteacher who had spent time in Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan where he met Osama bin Laden, formed Abu Sayyaf from former MNLF fighters in his native Basilan in the Southern Philippines. Bin Laden supported Janjalani’s group with a donation of $US 6 million. From the outset, Abu Sayyaf shared al-Qaeda’s and JI’s vision of creating a pan-Islamic realm, the Daulah Islamiyah Nusantara.55] Their ambitions deviated profoundly from the far more circumscribed separatist political goals of both the MILF and MNLF. Abu Sayyaf also shared al-Qaeda’s jihadist approach to realizing a transnational Islamist utopia. In this context after 1991, Abu Sayyaf embarked upon an increasingly violent campaign of bombings, kidnappings, rapes, and extortion across the Southern Philippines. Janjalani’s links to al-Qaeda’s Philippine contacts along with Middle East-linked Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Ramzi Yousef facilitated Abu Sayyaf’s pursuit of polymorphous violence.
Like most elite Islamist international activists, Yousef-a Baluchi, Swansea University-educated science graduate based in the Philippines56-possessed multiple identities and traveled on a variety of passports, including an Iraqi one. Yousef planned the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993.57 His putative uncle, also a Baluchi Sunni, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, was by 2001 number three in the al-Qaeda hierarchy and featured in both the planning of 9/11 and later JI operations.58 From 1992, both Yousef and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed took regular scuba diving trips to Puerta Galera in Basilan in order to train with the Abu Sayyaf and develop its tactical and strategic thinking. In December 1994, Abu Sayyaf claimed responsibility for Yousef’s failed attempt to bomb Philippine Airlines Flight 434 from Cebu. The bombing was a test run for Yousef’s grand plan, Operation Bojinka, to explode eleven passenger planes over the Pacific en route to Los Angeles. A fire at Yousef’s apartment followed by a police raid and Yousef’s arrest, however, disrupted the operation in January 1995.59 Yousef had also planned to assassinate the Pope during his visit to the Philippines in 1995.60 The subsequent arrest and interrogation of Abdul Karim Murad in Pakistan in March 1995 who operated under Ramzi Yousef’s guidance confirmed the bin Laden connection.61 Through Yousef and Khalid Sheikh Mohamed, Osama bin Laden’s imprimatur was clearly visible in the Abu Sayyaf’s political vision and strategic style. Indeed, the loose al-Qaeda franchise model served as the basic organizational principle for Abu Sayyaf.
Notwithstanding the disruption of Operation Bojinka, Abu Sayyaf subsequently conducted a beachhead assault on the town of Ipil in Mindanao in April 1995. However, links with al-Qaeda deteriorated after 1998 when the Philippine National Police killed Abdurajak Janjalani in a firefight on Basilan Island. Janjalani’s younger brother, Khadaffy, assumed the leadership of the group, which increasingly resorted to kidnappings and hostage takings to subsidize its activities. In 2000 it expanded these operations to the West Malaysian dive resort of Sipadan where they took 21 hostages. Apart from a ransom, they demanded the release of Ramzi Yousef, detained in the U.S., in exchange for the hostages. The abduction of 20 hostages from an upscale resort on the “safe” Southern Philippine resort island of Palawan followed in May 2001. A year after the raid, a botched Philippine army rescue saw two of the hostages, including the American missionary, Martin Burnham, killed and the rest of the hostages wounded. The kidnappers subsequently escaped.
Khadaffy’s pattern of random kidnapping, ransom demands, and polymorphous violence culminated in the bombing of the Manila Superferry on February 14, 2004 with the death of 116 passengers. Abu Sayyaf apparently bombed the ferry because the owners refused to pay protection money. Despite its continuing links to JI, Abu Sayyaf under Khadaffy’s leadership became increasingly fragmented and assumed the identity of a violent criminal gang with Islamist characteristics. Abu Sayyaf’s degeneration into banditry and raiding explains the divergent estimates of the size of the group, which range from 200 to over 2000 members.
Abu Sayyaf’s variable membership, however, reflected the group’s roots in the alliance system traditionally practiced amongst the Tausug and Yakun ethnic minorities that inhabited the Basilan and Jolo islands. In the case of both JI and Abu Sayyaf, kinship ties constituted an important component to the evolution and security of the group. In other words, JI, Abu Sayyaf, and al-Qaeda’s small world network was ideological in its formation but came to depend increasingly upon social bonds and interpersonal ties. JI and to a lesser extent Abu Sayyaf possessed formal, hierarchical, and informal characteristics. JI functioned primarily as a school while Abu Sayyaf emerged from kinship ties. Indeed, kinship and marriage facilitated the deeper integration of the network.
Kinship, Marriage and Terror Networking
The evolution of JI as a violent transnational Islamist group up until 2002 demonstrated its capacity to ideologically insinuate itself into seemingly self-contained conflicts. It developed what Jessica Stern has termed, “friendships of convenience.”62 It also demonstrated the extent to which local groupings were willing to receive al-Qaeda’s largesse and support to sustain their resistance.
In organizational terms however, relations between JI, Abu Sayyaf, and al-Qaeda were largely protean, informal and personal. Although facilitated by the revolution in global communications, their connectivity increasingly depended on ethnic and kinship ties and marital alliances. In the case of Abu Sayyaf, both kin and clan ties played and continue to play a crucial role in the structure of the group and explain its pattern of violence. In his classic study of the Tausug minority in Jolo and Basilan (Southern Mindanao) in the 1960s, Thomas Kiefer observed how the local alliance system constituted the building block of political organization, particularly in relation to warfare. Dyadic friendship relations and ties of reciprocity “involving the exchange of political and military services, goods, and affect” enabled the formation of armed bands. Here minimal alliances founded on close kin ties like the Janjalani brothers and their in-laws formed the basic group, while medial alliances formed through the dyadic relationship between two minimal kin groups constituted mid-level alliances. Finally, a maximal alliance involving regional affiliations formed the apex of the Tausug warfare system. By the 1960s the developing power of the postcolonial state had effectively disrupted the formation of maximal alliances.63
However, for purposes of resistance and political organization, medial and minimal alliances remained intact. Facilitated by the technology and training that al-Qaeda made possible, Abu Sayyaf deployed this medial and minimal alliance system to conduct operations and afterwards melt back into the civilian population.64 Its capacity to network with like-minded alliances in both Afghanistan and Indonesia further enhanced its regional and transnational cachet. The globalization of the 1990s that opened borders and accelerated communication quickened the process, particularly with respect to the evolving connections to the far more hierarchical and elitist JI.
Consequently, a number of factors in the course of the 1990s may be identified as critical to the organization and development of the JI and Abu Sayyaf networks. The first was the evolution of an ideology that considered jihad as a duty to bring about a radical millennial transformation of both the regional and international orders. The second was access to training camps and schools to recruit and indoctrinate a generation of true believers. Access to camps and funding from Saudi charities and Afghanistan helped develop training camps like Abubakar in the Philippines and schools like Lukmanul and Ngruki that formed the core of the JI structure. Yet, the training and funding was reinforced by close and evolving interpersonal and kin ties. Unlike the very specific Tausug ethnicity that formed the backbone of Abu Sayyaf, most of the JI leadership hailed from Indonesian, Hadrami backgrounds and often retained Yemeni kinship and religious connections. JI membership also demonstrated close ties to the DI movement of the 1950s. Thus, Fathur Rahman al-Ghozi’s father was a DI member imprisoned by the New Order regime. The family of Ahmed Kandai exhibited a jihadist genealogy. Kandai belonged to DI and had attempted to assassinate Sukarno in 1957. His brother Natsir worked closely with both Sungkar and Bashir in Central Java and Malaysia. Kandai’s three sons all became jihadists. Two of them took part in the bombing of the Philippine Ambassador’s residence in Jakarta in January 2000, while the third bombed the Atrium shopping mall, Manila, in the same year. Interestingly, brothers are a notable feature of JI: apart from the Bali bombers, al-Ghozi, and his brother, Hambali’s brother Rusman Gunawan acted as a conduit for emails between al-Qaeda and Hambali and he participated in the Jakarta Marriott Hotel bombing of 2003.
Inter-marriage further reinforced the JI membership and kept the network secure. Thus Mukhlas married head of Mantiqi 3 Nasir Abbas’ sister, while al-Ghozi and Amrozi are in-laws. After the police shot al-Ghozi in 2003, his younger brother, also a member of JI, married his widow. Abdullah Sungkar married two of his step-daughters to Ferial Muchlis Abdul Halim, head of a Selangor JI cell, and Syawal Yassin, a prominent Sulawesi jihadi. Sungkar also celebrated the marriage between Abdul Rahyim Ayub and Australian Rabiah Hutchinson. Haris Fadillah, a DI militia leader in Ambon, married his daughter Augustina to Indonesia-based al-Qaeda representative Omar al-Faruq. Somewhat differently, Australian “Jihad” Jack Thomas married Indonesian Maryati on the advice of JI friends.65
Kith, kinship, and exogenous marriage ties therefore facilitated the network’s proliferation and the promulgation of its ideology. Intermarriage extended JI’s links from Afghanistan through Malaysia and Indonesia to Sydney and Melbourne. At the same time, this long-gestating Islamist qabilah (tribe) dedicated to transforming the region into a daulah Islam spread their message using modern communications systems: it was determined to transcend the nation-state in order to forge a transnational network that created a virtual Islamic realm with the potential to disrupt, disorganize, paralyze, and terrorize insecure postcolonial states. Globalization of communication facilitated these interconnections, while funding from a variety of sources including remittances, ransoms, charities, and front organizations lubricated the process. For instance, according to FBI section chief Dennis Lormel, clandestine funds found their way from the Middle East into Southeast Asia through the operation of Saudi-sponsored charity organizations. After 1999, the JI successfully embedded members or “coopted Saudi charities (al-Haramain and IIRO), their Indonesian counterparts (Komite Aksi Penanggulangan Akibat Krisis, or KOMPAK, Crisis Prevention Committee), and the Medical Emergency Relief Charity (MERC)that was used to support militant activities.”66 In August 2006, the U.S. Treasury belatedly identified the IIRO’s Indonesian and Philippine offices as “facilitating fund raising for al-Qaeda and affiliated terrorist groups.”67
Countdown to Bali
Only the discovery of JI’s video plan to attack Western embassies in December 2001 exposed JI, the al-Mukmin, and Lukmanul schools’ unorthodox curricula activities. Somewhat fortuitously, an American soldier stumbled upon the video in the rubble of al-Qaeda’s headquarters in Kabul following the U.S.-led attack on Afghanistan.68 It also emerged that the Changi naval base and several other installations in Singapore, including the main civilian airport, were also on JI’s target list.69 As a result of this accidental discovery, al-Ghozi was arrested in Manila in January 2002.
In February 2003, Singapore’s Internal Security Department revealed that it had found emails and letters linking Maidin, the leader of the Singapore JI operation, with Mullah Omar, Mohammed Atta, and Osama bin Laden in Kabul.70 These contacts dated from 1999. A sophisticated attempt to damage the fraught bilateral relations with Malaysia informed the strategic thinking of the Singapore plot. The aim was to create conflict between the two neighbors and thus destabilize the regional order that the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), formed in 1967, had crafted after the European colonial powers eventually departed the region.
Mohammed Mansoor Jabarah, a 19-year-old Kuwaiti with Canadian citizenship who had met with bin Laden on at least four occasions, financed the operation and provided its link to al-Qaeda.71 Jabarah escaped to Malaysia in December 2001. Subsequently, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed sent Jabarah to organize new missions with Hambali. In January 2002 Jabarah met with Hambali, Omar al-Faruq, the al-Qaeda representative in Southeast Asia,72 and he met Mukhlas and Noordin Top in Southern Thailand. Here they agreed on a campaign to attack soft targets with Western links like the Kuta Beach resort in Bali.73 Jabarah provided $150,000 USD for the Bali operation. Hambali delegated the planning and execution of this mission to Mukhlas.74 Mukhlas chose Imam Samudra from a Persis family in West Java to lead the Bali operation, and he recruited a hard core of al-Mukmin graduates. Azahari Hussin directed Ali Imron, Amrozi, Mubarok, Sarjiyo, Umar Patek, and Dul Matin to construct the bombs responsible for the attack on Paddy’s Bar on October 12, 2002.75 Ultimately, it was the tight structure, long-term strategic planning, and rigidity of the ideological mission that was central to the success of the operation.
In piecing together the evolving relationship between JI, Abu Sayyaf and, al-Qaeda between 1985 and 2002, it is clear that regional intelligence and police services exhibited a marked degree of complacency about the nature and threat they posed to regional security. For example, Jabarah was detained in March 2002 and Faruq was arrested in August 2002. An FBI report from their interrogations was made available to Australian and regional intelligence agencies in August 2002.76 Yet, even after the Bali bombs, Australian police and intelligence still officially denied any connection between JI and al-Qaeda. In January 2003, Australian police sources even maintained that “there [was] nothing concrete to link al-Qaeda to the [Bali] bombings.”77 Eventually, in February it was officially but somewhat obscurely announced that “until the events of October 12, [JI was] an unknown quantity.”78
In many ways, the scale of the intelligence failure across the region reflected a wider inter-governmental complacency towards the spread of Islamist extremism prior to the Bali bombing. The region consistently underestimated the nature and extent of the threat. Thus, regional scholar bureaucrats like Jusuf Wanandi of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Jakarta maintained that “attention to such groups as Laskar Jihad has been overblown. They are rather noisy groups, but small and marginal.”79 Such views found their echo in Australian assessments where security analysts claimed barely a week before the Bali attack that “the tendency is still to overplay [the terror] threat.”80
Given the protoplasmic character of al-Qaeda, with JI sleeper cells extending even to Australia, the threat remained pervasive between 2002 and 2009. Before the Bali attack, ASEAN had set up a number of discussion forums to look into the issue of extremism in the region. However, the association was often divided by outlook amongst its members and even failed to agree on an acceptable definition of terrorism.81
After the Bali bombing, ASEAN nations increased low-level intelligence cooperation. Nevertheless, the Association remained hamstrung in dealing with the Southeast Asian terror network. This thwarting of cooperation was a result of the association’s commitment to the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of member states.82 As a consequence, some ASEAN states, along with regional commentary more generally, continued to exhibit a degree of ambivalence toward the global interconnectedness of militant Islamism and its terror links between 2002 and 2005.83 In Indonesia in the aftermath of the authoritarian New Order, the Presidency of Megawati Sukarnoputri (2001-2004) officially discounted links between regional Islamism and globalizing transnational terror-despite mounting evidence to the contrary. Interestingly, the 35-page indictment of the Bali night club bomber, Amrozi, did not refer once to his membership in JI.84 Additionally, the subsequent indictment of JI emir Bashir made no mention of his links to al-Qaeda.85 Bashir was arraigned on charges of trying to topple Indonesia’s secular government, assassinate President Megawati, and establish an Islamic state. Of course, Bashir dismissed all the charges against him as a CIA plot and threatened-then U.S. President Bush with “punishment by Allah.”86
Moreover, the arrest of the Bali bombers by no means rendered JI redundant. Indeed, the core of JI’s militant faction remained at large. Bomb attacks in May 2003 on Jakarta airport and in the Philippines demonstrated JI’s continuing terror capability, and this was reinforced by the attack on the Marriott hotel on August 5 in which a dozen people died. The bombing of the Australian embassy in Jakarta in September 2004, the second attack on Bali in October 2005 in which 23 died, and the martyrdom attack on the Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels in the Mega Kuningan business district of Jakarta in July 2009 that killed 9 people substantiated the continuing capacity of the group to conduct operations. Its protean character, combined with the fact that al-Qaeda operated as a global conduit for anti-Western resentment, meant that it had become more dangerously elusive after 2002.
Indeed, a study by Sidney Jones in 2003 suggested that JI was a much larger organization than previously suspected, “with a depth of leadership that [gave] it a regenerative capacity.”87 In August 2003, Australian Federal Police Commissioner Mick Keelty maintained that JI would not be defeated while the Indonesian government permitted pesantren like al-Mukmin to recruit future generations for the jihadist cause. Somewhat predictably, the Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirayuda dismissed Keelty’s observations as “fortune teller’s talk” and an intolerable intrusion into Indonesian domestic politics.88
However, Commissioner Keelty’s prophecies were confirmed when in September 2003 a Jakarta court convicted Abu Bakar Bashir of subversion rather than treason and sentenced him to only four years in prison. The court found insufficient evidence to prove that he was the leader of JI or that he conspired in the planning of terrorist operations. He was released from jail in 2006 and continued to preside over his boarding school at Pondok Ngruki near Solo in Central Java.
In fact, Bashir was only rearrested and accused of treason after the discovery and disruption of a hitherto unsuspected terror cell, “al-Qaeda in Aceh,” in February 2010, which had links to both the more militant elements in JI like Dul Matin and Nordin Top as well as to Bashir who allegedly raised $150,000 AU for the group. The Aceh cell was comprised of both Indonesian activists as well as “militants who had ties to both the Middle East and the Philippines.”89According to Indonesian counterterrorism reports, the group had planned to not only assassinate Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono but also to mount a Mumbai-style attack in Jakarta on Independence Day (August 17, 2010).90 Indonesian authorities detained over 100 more people in connection with the February raid. Despite its disruption after 2002, the picture that emerged in light of these events was that, JI still retained its hierarchy of accountability and that Bashir functioned as far more than a spiritual leader of the organization. It also appeared from this recent investigation that JI had a capacity for renewal that most commentators had underestimated-not least because what was being planned in Aceh was a full-scale training camp for jihad.91
In this context of regional denial and misunderstanding of the resilient character of JI, it should be further noted that in 2003 the Thai government threatened to prosecute any foreign journalist who alleged that senior al-Qaeda operatives like Hambali had ever met in the Muslim-populated Thai south to coordinate attacks across the region-despite well-informed reports that this was indeed the case.92 In June however, then-Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who had previously derided travel warnings against his country, somewhat lost face when Thai police uncovered a JI cell actively planning suicide bomb attacks on Western embassies in Bangkok. Hambali’s arrest in the former Thai capital of Ayodhaya in August 2003 augmented the Thai government’s embarrassment.
In April/May 2010, it was revealed that JI members ran a school complex in Phnom Penh, Cambodia and had opened a new training camp in southern Mindanao that gave diplomas to its graduates. Once more, this indicated the adaptive qualities of the organization. The largely unregulated borderland region that includes parts of Mindanao (islands in the Sulu Sea), the Malaysian state of Sabah, and northern Indonesia continues to offer sanctuary to those opposed to the secular governments of the region. Moreover, despite continued harrying by the Philippine military and police, the Abu Sayyaf threat remained serious enough to prompt the Philippine government to postpone an ASEAN Ministers meeting and East Asian Summit planned for Cebu in November 2006. Finally, as noted above, in 2010, Indonesian Special Forces disrupted an unsuspected jihadist training camp in Aceh organized by Tanzim al-Qaeda Indonesia dari Serambi Makkah, a purported breakaway faction of JI.
Degrading and Dismantling JI
Despite the recognition of JI’s continuing presence, nevertheless when the usual lack of coordination among the internal security apparatuses of regional states was overcome and the traditionally fragmented minds of the ASEAN states were concentrated, Southeast Asian states became able to expose and disrupt JI and its transnational connections-particularly if they utilized Australian and U.S. expertise. After October 2002, the Indonesian police arrested 34 members of the JI group whose existence the government officially doubted until 2005. While Bashir received a light sentence, Amrozi, Imam Samudra, and Ali Imron were found guilty and sentenced to death in Denpasar, Bali in August 2003 for securing the explosives and the car for the Bali nightclub bombings.
Furthermore, after the second Bali bombing and the election of new President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in 2004, the Indonesian police developed the resolve and capacity to dismantle the JI network with the assistance of the Australian Federal Police and the U.S. armed forces. After 2004, the Indonesian police received a clear mandate to excise, by force if necessary, the most militant JI group, Mantiqi 1. The police paramilitary unit Brimob (Brigade Mobile) and particularly its second anti-terror regiment Gegana-together with the U.S.-trained and funded special forces group, Detasemen Khusus or Desus 88 (Detachment 88), which was operational by 2005-subsequently harried the militant wing of JI across the archipelago. In 2005, Desus 88 raided a house in Malang East Java and killed Azahari Hussin, the bomb maker and coordinator responsible for the Bali, Marriott Hotel and Australian embassy attacks with Noordin Top. In January 2007, Desus 88 engaged in an operation in Poso, Sulawesi where ten jihadists died in a gunfight. Following these raids, inter-communal violence in Sulawesi declined dramatically. The counterinsurgency achieved another notable coup in June 2007 with the arrest of Abu Dujana, the head of JI’s military wing, together with the new supreme leader of JI, Zarkasih. The arrests of Dujana and Zarkasih severely disrupted the post-Bali organization of JI.
Therefore, by 2007, the JI network responsible for the Bali bombing had been significantly degraded. Hambali, Mukhlas, Faiz Bafana, Abu Jibril, Abu Rusdan, and the Bali bombers were all in jail, while Azahari Hussin and Fathur Rahman al-Ghozi were dead. The remnant of JI’s military hard core-Noordin Top, Umar Patek, and Dul Matin-remained, albeit briefly, in the Southern Philippines where they resumed their longstanding ties with the Abu Sayyaf Group. In the course of 2007, JI further fragmented. Noordin Top, the charismatic “moneyman” and acknowledged link to al-Qaeda, along with the remnant of Mantiqi 1, seemingly broke from Bashir and the political leadership of JI and declared his leadership of a new group, the Tanzim al-Qaeda (or Tanzim Qaedat al-Jihad, Organization for the Basis of Jihad). Subsequently, the faction led by Top conducted the July 2009 attack on the Jakarta Ritz-Carlton and Marriott hotels. This, however, was to be the group’s apogee. Two months later Top was dead. Detachment 88 officers killed him in a shoot-out at a house in Solo, Central Java. Later, in March 2010, Detachment 88 officers shot and killed “Indonesia’s most wanted man,” Dul Matin, outside an Internet cafe on the outskirts of Jakarta, acting on information received from the arrest of JI sympathizers in Aceh. This left Umar Patek, the last major figure of the Bali generation of bombers, isolated and on the run. The Pakistan ISI eventually detained Patek in Abbotabad in January 2011. He was subsequently extradited to Indonesia in August. Tanzim Qaedat al-Jihad was effectively neutralized after the February raid on their Aceh training camp.
In the Philippines, the police and military continued their protracted campaign against Abu Sayyaf and related militias in Mindanao. The police killed Khadaffy Janjalani in 2006 and his successor, Abu Suleiman, in January 2007. Romeo Ricardo, chief of police intelligence, maintained that Khadaffy and Suleiman had been the main contacts both for Middle Eastern donors and for JI.
In Malaysia, which had hosted both Zacarias Moussaoui and a number of late participants in the events of 9/11, government security forces interned 62 members of the JI-affiliated KMM. Those arrested included the alleged leader of the KMM, Nik Adli Abdul Aziz, whose father was Nik Aziz Nik Mat, the spiritual head of the Malaysian Islamic opposition party (PAS) and the former Premier of the state of Kelantan. Malaysian police also interned college lecturer Wan bin Wan Mat who was responsible for transferring money to Imam Samudra for the Bali attack and to the group’s spiritual leader, Abu Jibril. By Indonesia taking more forceful action both domestically and regionally after 2004-even cooperating with Singaporean authorities to arrest the head of the Singapore branch of JI and participating in joint operations with the Australian Federal Police to dismantle JI’s military wing-it negated any integrated capacity for Islamist groupings to mount terror attacks across the region. Moreover, the arrests of Omar al Faruq in August 2002, the 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in March 2003, and JI chief strategist Hambali by U.S. special forces in Thailand in August 2003 further restricted links between JI and al-Qaeda’s already disrupted military council and further denuded its operational effectiveness.
In other words, coordinated counter-terror targeting and decapitating of key network hubs proved remarkably effective at disrupting the organization. JI’s militant faction’s commitment to tactical bombings, which had killed more Indonesians than kafir Westerners, further facilitated what Detachment 88 Commander Tito M. Karnavian termed, “the carrot and stick” approach of Indonesia’s elite paramilitary police:94 Simply, attacks on Indonesians after 2003 alienated the majority of moderate Muslims.
The Southeast Asian Counter-ideology Campaigns
At the same time, as more effective regional policing, intelligence, and counterinsurgency operations disrupted JI and its links with KMM, Abu Sayyaf, and al-Qaeda, a number of regional governments also launched initiatives to counter the ideology espoused by JI and its affiliates in the MMI. Although regional governments have disrupted jihad in Indonesia and Malaysia, this observation is not unimportant because the democratic transition in Indonesia since 1999 and the increasing openness of Malaysian politics since 2004 has provided an opening for Islamism to advance its ideology via non-violent political means. Furthermore, the discovery of the Aceh cell and its continuing transnational links revealed in February 2010 that JI possessed resilience and capacity for recruitment. The continuing threat from jihadist violence should not be underestimated for these reasons.
Significantly, the more astute and pragmatic figures in JI have recognized and exploited the opportunity offered by the prospect of democratic openings in Indonesia. Since 2007, the long-serving emir of JI, Bashir, has promoted a political Islamist agenda, while at the same time covertly supporting and subsidizing the production of violence by groups like “al-Qaeda in Aceh.” His message of transforming the political state into an Islamic one continued to converge with that of Islamist political parties like the Partai Keadilan Sejahtera (PKS, Prosperous Justice Party) and Hizb ut-Tahrir. The latter operated both regionally and transnationally to advance the caliphate. But unlike JI, PKS eschewed active and physical jihad-at least officially.
Consequently, to confront the ideological appeal of jihadism, a number of regional governments have revived or modified strategies to sustain internal cohesion and national resilience that had been developed in the immediate aftermath of colonialism. This is not without interest given that Southeast Asian states like Malaysia, Singapore, and Indonesia had been the focus of classical counterinsurgency practice in the 1950s and 1960s. Significantly, in the Cold War period it was these insecure new states that paid conspicuous attention to nation building and internal resilience in the face of a variety of external and internal threats. Indonesia, for instance, evolved its secular identity of unity in diversity via the national ideology of Pancasila. After race riots in 1969, Malaysia devised its national pillars or Rukun Negara. Meantime, Singapore developed a strategy of “total defense,” a crucial dimension of which required a psychological defense designed to reinforce loyalty to and trust in government.95
Furthermore, in attending to national resilience and internal security, these states have increasingly recognized that the threat posed by violent extremism is not only one of inadequate public policy alone, but it is also of ideological motivation and recruitment. As Rohan Gunaratna of Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, observes, “ideology not poverty or illiteracy” is “the key driver of politically motivated violence.”96 In this statement, he merely asserts the view not only of the Singapore government but also of the moderate Muslim ruling parties in Indonesia and Malaysia. In Malaysia, the former Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi promoted a civilizational Islam, or Islam Hadhari, which emphasized Islamic tolerance, market friendliness, and pluralism. Current Prime Minister Najib endorses a “One Malaysia” policy to overcome racial and religious tension. This policy, combined with internal security legislation dating from the Malaya Emergency period between 1948 and 1960 that aims to interdict those suspected of membership in radical Islamist groups, has succeeded in curtailing Islamist inspired violence in Malaysia.
Analogously, in Indonesia the Wahid Institute (named for the late President Wahid) promotes a moderate Muslim voice that emphasizes Islam as a moral and social teaching rather than a political ideology. Nadhlatul Ulama, the largest Muslim organization in the world, promotes this thinking across the archipelago. Wahid’s critique of radical Islamist ideas also promotes this thinking. He contended that while radical Islam presented a growing challenge, Nahdlatul nevertheless had the resources and the energy to combat it. As he pointed out, “every Saturday morning I have a broadcast of one hour over the radio regarding religious issues. Now [in 2007] it reaches 10 million listeners, while before  it was only half a million. This shows our peaceful message is heard now more than ever.”97 Moderate teaching, together with the Indonesian government and paramilitary police’s increasingly combative approach to JI militancy, has significantly degraded, though not destroyed, JI’s capacity to act as a violently subversive organization. As Desus 88 commander Karnavian declared, “the carrot and stick approach” to jihad has had notable success in fragmenting the hard core from it support base. This tactic was further facilitated by the inept targeting of the militant JI faction in their post-2002 bombing campaign.98
Therefore, the strategies adopted by Southeast Asian states, emphasize a central awareness of al-Qaeda’s ideology and the capacity to address it-or more precisely, to “de-sacralize” its appeal and undermine its legitimacy. It could be argued that this awareness is as important in combating the jihadist enterprise as it is to disrupting its organizational hubs. Thus, as a 2006 report on Terrorism in Southeast Asia observed, “weaning the mainstream Muslims away from [Islamist] influence through political concessions, amnesties, or other personal initiatives” is not enough. Instead, “the best chances for success [are] [sic] to engage them in dialogue, show them how they are being manipulated by perverted or corrupt interpretations of the religious texts, and to convince them that there could be better alternatives to acts of violence.”99 Outlining what this entails in terms of counter-ideological practice, Gunaratna notes that until recently “the ideological or intellectual battle has been overlooked,” especially by those counterinsurgency experts such as David Kilcullen who maintains that the counter-ideological campaign is a second-order concern given that Islamist thought possesses “little functional relationship with violence.”100 In the words of Gunaratna, one consequence of such views is that “there has been no effort to ideologically target al Qaeda, JI, and other comparable groups that apply religious justification to legitimate and authenticate their terrorist activities.”101
To address this view, Singapore and the region more generally, adapted a more proactive strategy (if somewhat belatedly.) The Singapore government worked within an established framework to sustain national resilience and maintain harmony within its diverse communities and acted in conjunction with the moderate Muslim community, in the words of the former Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong, “to root out extremists and radical teaching.”102 In this effort, Deputy Minister for Home Affairs Wong Kan Seng argued, “the government cannot deal with the terrorist ideology by changing the minds of the detainees who have been poisoned. This has to be done by the religious teachers and scholars themselves.”103 Thus, in order to combat the “deviant ideology,” the government-linked Muslim community organizations must address the distortions present in JI ideology as well as counsel Singapore’s 31 JI members detained under the state’s draconic Internal Security Act since 2002.104 After 2003 in particular, the Muslim Religious Council of Singapore established a register of religious teachers (asatizah) as part of a “comprehensive regulatory system.”105 This system also involves prominent Singaporean Muslim clerics counseling jihadists as well as engaging directly with their ideology. Muslim scholars Ustaz Haji ali Haji Mohamed and Ustaz Haji Mohamed Hasbi bin Feisal Hassan, President of the Singapore Islamic Scholars and Religious Teachers Association, became the core personnel of the Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG) devoted to correcting the misconceived ideology held by JI detainees and disseminated its corrections across the Muslim community.106 The RRG undertakes counseling of those who have been radicalized. Since 2005, the RRG has successfully rehabilitated 26 former JI sympathizers who have been released back into the community, albeit on restriction orders. In the Southeast Asian context, therefore, security analysts like Noor Huda Ismail consider ideological rehabilitation crucial “because it tackles the heart of the problem, a radical reinterpretation of Islamic teachings.”107
Apart from its counseling program, asatizah like Muhammad Hassan also play an active role in confuting Islamist writings and their justifications for jihadist violence. Hassan, like Wahid in Indonesia, addressed the questionable use of the Koran to defend the jihadist recourse to violence. Hassan notably undertook a detailed criticism of Bali bomber Imam Samudra’s best seller Aku Melawan Teroris (I Fight Terrorists, 2004). Samudra defended the Bali bombing in 2002 on the grounds that Muslim lands needed defense against the infidel crusade. Jihad, moreover, is not only necessary but constitutes a personal obligation (fardhu ain) for the true as opposed to the fake or chocolate Muslim. By contrast, Hassan drew upon Islamic theology to show that Samudra’s personal obligation to jihad negated the concept of rightful authority in Islam and that his generalization about the necessity of jihad against non-believers is one that no established Muslim scholarship sustains. Ultimately, Hassan demonstrated that Samudra’s thinking tends to conspiracy theory rather than to faith.
Significantly, therefore, the governments of Indonesia, Singapore, and Malaysia have recognized since 2002 that “no counter ideology work can succeed and no correct alternative ideas can be offered, unless a clear and accurate understanding of the opposing ideology held by jihadists is established.”108 As Hassan concludes, “the problem of violent extremism is twofold: misinterpretation of the text and the opportunity and context that provide for such misinterpretation.”109
This genealogy of Islamist-inspired groups in Southeast Asia demonstrates both the long-term thinking and planning of al-Qaeda and its protean and diffuse character. These characteristics enabled the movement to connect with Islamist organizations as far afield as Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Singapore, interact with them, finance them, and subordinate them to achieve the movement’s strategic goals. Its capacity to draw disparate radical groups together, to coordinate their ideology and practice through collaboration and exchange, and to broaden the reach of these groups from local to national to regional and beyond, contrasts with the partial understandings of the threat initially exhibited by regional intelligence agencies and commentators that were limited by national horizons and bureaucratic or government-determined agendas.
While JI has been significantly degraded from being an effective regional organization, it has nevertheless succeeded in making its ideology both widely available and increasingly attractive to Southeast Asian Muslims confronted by the uncertainty of regional politics and the anxiety generated by globalization. As the Jakarta hotel bombings of July 2009 and the disruption of a training camp in Aceh in early 2010 demonstrate, JI’s continuing appeal to a new generation of radicals remains potent, despite the increasingly fragmented character of its extremist faction. In other words, the survival of the organization is not necessarily central to the continuation of the threat but the dissemination of the ideology and the polymorphous violence it strategically embraces is central to its continuation. This evolution and development evidently refutes the thesis of Jessica Stern, Marc Sageman, David Kilcullen, and others who downplay religious motivation in jihadist activism. Ultimately, the mission is not flexible and its promulgation requires commitment, sacrifice, and a determined obduracy. These are demonstrated in the propensity for martyrdom of not only foot soldiers like the Bali bombers but also of regional “hubs”-to use Sageman’s somewhat clumsy term-like Noordin Top and Dul Matin.
Moreover, the success of the Indonesian, Malaysian, and Singaporean authorities in countermanding the organization demonstrates the importance of a counter-ideological campaign that seeks to de-sacralize the appeal to violence in the name of religion. This uncompromising response, further reinforced by a commitment to eradicate or decapitate the hardcore leadership, has proved highly effective, despite the cavils of Western experts like Audrey Kurth Cronin who prefer negotiation and imprisonment.
In this assessment of the complex linkages binding and sustaining Islamist groupings in Southeast Asia, we have demonstrated that understanding organizational evolution and “informal networks” is useful as an analytical tool to aid comprehension of how jihadist groups form, develop, mutate, and spread. However, making the organizational structure the central explanatory variable for jihadist activity, as many contemporary commentators do, confuses ends and means.
Ultimately, informal networks are the means, not the ends, of jihadist actions. Complex networking is instrumental to the spread of Islamist ideology. The contention is validated when we examine the motives for broadening the web of jihadist activism throughout Southeast Asia during the first decade of the twentieth century and its continuing resilience today. This conclusion is reinforced by the official attitudes and actions of the states of Southeast Asia that have put a premium on confronting the ideological motivation for jihad as the cornerstone of their counterterror policy and which, as we have shown, have done much to degrade the effectiveness of the networking that sustains groups like JI.
Contrary to organizational approaches, then, a case study of Southeast Asian jihadist militancy suggests that ideology remains the crucial variable involved in the motivation, maintenance, and indeed organization of Islamist groups-while countering them necessitates a judicious blend of force and counter radicalization strategies. Maintaining political stability in Southeast Asia requires the continuation of this broad national security strategy that attempts not only to interdict violent jihadist conspiracies but also prudently attends to the deracinating consequences of new political religions. This, moreover, constitutes a template for designing strategies that could also be useful in societies beyond Southeast Asia, including Europe and North America.