JI Weakened, Yet Potential for Violence Remains

Publication: Terrorism Focus Volume: 4 Issue: 21

The June arrests of two important Jemaah Islamiya (JI) leaders, Abu Dujana and Zarkasih (also known as Abu Nu’aim), along with their aides, is a major blow to the network and will weaken it significantly (The Jakarta Post, June 25; Terrorism Focus, June 19). Yet, experience in the last seven years has demonstrated that JI is a resilient clandestine organization, and it has the ability to adapt to internal rifts and crackdown efforts by the authorities. The continual arrests of JI members suggest that its numbers are consistently greater than most security analysts speculate. It is important, therefore, to understand that JI is not merely a terrorist operation; it is a social organization that conducts economic, communication and social outreach activities. According to Ustadz Zakaria—the director of an Islamic boarding school in East Java that was host to the first Bali bombers, who spoke with this author in June—JI is self-contained as its members trade amongst each other through various means of business, such as multi-level marketing in herbal products for health and other commodities such as rice and honey. Through this type of business activity, JI has been able to expand its network while blending in with society.

Many traditional methods have been exercised to recruit new members and maintain the loyalty of existing ones. Recruitment venues include schools, kinship networks, friendships and small Islamic groups consisting of six-to-ten people. The groups meet regularly for various social activities, such as book discussions or members’ weddings, which, due to their harmless nature, inhibit regulation by authorities. JI also embraces new technology such as CDs, cell phones, text messages, e-mail and websites to communicate and provide moral assurance for their activities. Reportedly, Arif Syarifudin and Aris Widodo, who were among the latest members arrested, had been tasked to communicate by e-mail with JI operatives Dulmatin and Umar Patek, who sought refuge with the Abu Sayyaf Group in the Philippines (Tempo, June 22).

Demonstrating the role of technology is the case of former JI leader Abu Bakar Bashir’s fatwa ordering JI members not to use violence in Indonesia. This fatwa is not well regarded by fringe youth and impassionate recruits. Therefore, they have turned to the internet in order to download fatwas from mainly Middle Eastern scholars, including fatwas from the late Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. A group of translators associated with this group translated these fatwas from Arabic, circulated them secretly and discussed the material. This supports the assertion that moral credibility is extremely important for jihadi operatives, because without these fatwas, their activities would be considered no different from those of criminals.

The recent arrests of JI leaders is quite significant, but it should not be exaggerated. One must not view this dynamic organization as static. There are senior JI leaders who are still at large, including the leader of JI’s armed faction, Noordin Mohammad Top; JI’s military commander, Zulkarnaen; the electronics and bomb-making expert, Joko Pitono (known as Dulmatin); and the recruitment expert, Umar Patek (Terrorism Focus, June 19). It is true, however, that the quality of JI members throughout the organization has been degraded dramatically during the last five years. The most difficult task lying ahead for the Indonesian government is to combat the ideology of violence that still occupies the minds of impassionate young recruits who are disappointed with their old leaders for abandoning the call of jihad. Without meticulous efforts and initiatives to counter their virulent justification of violence, Indonesia and other countries may still suffer from new terrorist attacks that—though possibly not large in scale—could jeopardize human lives.