Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 17 Issue: 7


Indonesia: Family Ties in Terrorism Increasingly Evident Ahead of Elections 

Brian M. Perkins

The threat of terrorism continues to loom large in Indonesia as the country gears up for elections on April 17. The country will not only vote for its next president, but also on the 560 members of the People’s Representative Council, which will undoubtedly weigh heavily on the country’s counter- terrorism efforts. Many constituents have noted a significant lack of debate between the two main candidates—incumbent President Joko Widodo and Prabowo Subianto—regarding counter-terrorism strategies. Meanwhile, both candidates have made significant efforts to appeal to conservative Muslim groups across the country. Widodo has selected a prominent religious leader as his vice president, and Subianto has attempted to make himself appear to be a more pious Muslim than his reputation indicates (Jakarta Post, August 9). Less conservative voices within the country, as well as international observers, fear religious intolerance and Islamic conservativism will continue to rise, creating an even more fertile ground for the various jihadist groups operating throughout the country.

Regardless of who wins the election, the president will almost certainly be faced with the challenge of intra-party bargaining within the People’s Representative Council to address the persistent threat of terrorism. The terrorist threat in Indonesia was brought to the fore in 2017 and again in 2018 after bombings in Jakarta and Surabaya, respectively, and although the threat has mostly receded from mainstream media, militant groups continue to operate and recruit throughout the country.

Indonesian security forces have managed to disrupt a large percentage of terrorist plots and the country has extremely strict anti-terrorism laws. However, Indonesia and the next government is facing a new challenge as there has been a notable trend in which entire families, including women and children, are conspiring to conduct attacks. Most recently, on March 12, a police standoff ended when a woman detonated a suicide bomb outside of her home in Sibolga, North Sumatra Province, killing herself and her two children. The woman was reportedly the wife of Abu Hamzah—a suspected member of the Islamic State-linked group Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD)—who was arrested a day prior to the bombing (Straits Times, March 13). Indonesian authorities later arrested seven other suspected members, including two women, that are allegedly linked to the bomber. Previous attacks have also highlighted familial links among militants in Indonesia, including the bombing of the Surabaya Center Pentecostal Church.

The involvement of entire families in terrorist groups presents several challenges, not only from a preventative perspective, but also from a post-attack perspective. Indonesian authorities will likely be forced to broaden the scope of their investigations and surveillance efforts to account for the increased involvement of women and children and will likely closely monitor the family members of arrested suspects to prevent would be revenge attacks by children or women, like Abu Hamzah’s wife, who have allegedly been trained as suicide bombers. Another significant challenge is the question of what to do with the women and children left behind when the adult male member of the family is arrested or dies during an attack. Given Indonesia’s strict anti-terrorism laws and legislation that allows authorities to arrest anyone with suspected links to a banned terrorist organization, such as JAD, it is likely that many family members, regardless of actual involvement, will end up in the country’s prison system, which is already overburdened and becoming a hotbed for radicalization. The country’s countering violent extremism strategies will need to be adjusted to account for this growing trend, focusing not only on military-age males or those currently in prison, but instead starting earlier, with a focus on entire family units as well as family members left behind. The results of the upcoming election will undoubtedly have an effect on anti-terrorism legislation as well as the overall political and religious climate.


Mozambique – Ansar al-Sunna Attack on Foreign Workers Raises Concerns of Growing Insurgency

Brian M. Perkins

The little-known but ongoing insurgency in Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province shows no signs of abating after intensifying nearly 17 months ago. The group responsible, Ansar al-Sunna, has conducted countless attacks on civilian villagers and security forces throughout Cabo Delgado in the past year (Terrorism Monitor, June 14, 2018). The province, despite being one of the poorest in the country, is quickly becoming one of the most important regions for the Mozambican economy due to the discovery of significant oil reserves. Projects to tap those reserves are set to increase significantly in the coming months.

Ansar al-Sunna has perplexed international analysts as well as the Mozambican government and security forces due to its extreme violence and the lack of public claims for its operations. Local authorities have made contradictory statements regarding the nature of the group, with some officials referring to the attackers as mere criminals and others referring to them as jihadists (Club of Mozambique, April 25, 2018). Despite the lack of adequate reporting in the region and the lack of public claims or propaganda, it is likely that the group is an amalgamation of local smugglers and individuals radicalized both locally and through networks in Tanzania.

The majority of the group’s attacks have included nighttime raids of villages—where the group has razed homes and beheaded villagers—and unsophisticated ambushes on unsuspecting security forces. The death toll over the past year is estimated to have reached well into the hundreds and recent attacks might indicate the beginning of a worrisome new trend. Ansar al-Sunna conducted two rare daylight attacks and its first on foreign workers in February. The first attack targeted a convoy of workers from U.S.-based Anadarko Petroleum just miles from the company’s facility on the Afungi Peninsula, and six workers were injured. The second attack targeted the Portuguese construction firm, Gabriel Couto, resulting in the beheading of one employee (Club of Mozambique, February 23).

The group’s ascendance has directly coincided with increasing oil exploration. The shift of targets from Mozambican villagers and security forces to foreign workers, meanwhile, took place shortly after foreign firms began establishing a more significant presence in the region, and just ahead of Anadarko’s timeline to make its final decision on its investment on a project to build an onshore LNG processing facility in Cabo Delgado. The Mozambican government has promised to boost security in the region to ensure oil projects remain on schedule, but security forces have already been accused of serious human rights abuses against villagers. An overly heavy-handed approach toward civilians may risk further resistance against the government.

As Mozambique seeks to ramp up foreign investment and oil projects in the region, there is a risk that if not contained quickly, the Ansar al-Sunna insurgency could quickly grow to resemble that of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta. This armed militant group wreaked havoc on the government and oil industry in Nigeria. While the insurgency is young, the Mozambican government should take stock of local grievances against the state and work to obtain buy-in from locals through increased involvement in oil projects and much-needed development projects.