Indonesia: Jamaah Ansharut Daulah’s Family Approach and Freedom of Movement Challenges Indonesian Forces
Brian M. Perkins
Indonesian security forces have launched a significant crackdown on suspected members of the IS-linked group Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD) following a suicide bombing at a police station in Medan that injured at least four police officers and two civilians (South China Morning Post, November 16). The attack came just weeks after a husband and wife duo belonging to JAD stabbed Indonesian Security Minister Wiranto, who uses one name, in West Java. The country has seen a recent surge in terrorist activity over the past six months, despite several notable JAD members being arrested or killed. Incidents over this timespan have highlighted two particularly troubling trends—close familial connections among JAD members and militants’ ease of movement.
The latest security operations led to the arrest of at least 43 individuals connected to JAD, including the wife of the Medan attacker, Rabbial Muslim Nasution, and several others linked to the bombing. Indonesian police reported that some of the suspects had undergone military training on Mount Sibayak in the Karo area—a famous tourist destination—of North Sumatra and that the Densus 88 counter-terrorism squad had killed two skilled bombmakers who supplied the device used in the attack. Authorities also reported that Nasution’s wife, who remains unnamed, was plotting an attack in Bali (Benar News, November 18).
In October, a father and son were arrested in Bali for plotting an attack on resorts in the popular tourist destination. Authorities reported that the two were in possession of arrows and bayonets and that they were closely connected with the couple responsible for Wiranto’s stabbing through an extremist WhatsApp group called Menanti al-Mahdi (Merdeka, October 17).
JAD does not have a well-defined structure and a large portion of dismantled cells have consisted of families and close knit communities, many of which have been influenced via closed Telegram or WhatsApp groups such as Menanti al-Mahdi that are often initially spread through word of mouth and Indonesian language jihadist magazines that emphasize an “all Muslims” approach to recruitment of fighters. Women and children have been an increasingly important feature of militant groups, such as Islamic State, but considerably less so in non-conflict zones, which makes the situation in Indonesia particularly unique.
Many of the attacks have been unsophisticated or unplanned. The Wiranto stabbing was reportedly mostly happenstance and planned moments beforehand despite the couple being under police surveillance (Jakarta Post, October 15). Other attacks, however, have demonstrated a significant level of facilitation that has involved radicalized individuals traveling undetected across Indonesia’s numerous islands to receive training or conduct attacks.
The number of attacks and arrests over the past year has highlighted a steady rate of radicalization that is only likely to increase as President Joko Widodo’s newly announced cabinet is staffed by former military and police officials intent on regulating society along national security grounds. Islamic State’s increased focus on Southeast Asia coupled with the difficulty of securing an archipelago will continue to plague Indonesia as it continues to struggle to keep tabs on individuals already on security forces’ radar. Meanwhile, the clear emphasis on recruitment and radicalization within families will make it increasingly difficult for security forces to disrupt plots that are planned during face-to-face meetings at home between family members. These plans often use unassuming women and children, which makes detection particularly difficult.
Despite Murky Details, Attack on Border Post Underlines Terror Threat in Tajikistan
Brian M. Perkins
Islamic State-Khorasan (IS-K) suffered a major setback in November after hundreds of members, including a notable number of Tajiks, surrendered in the face of operations by Afghan and coalition forces in the country’s eastern Nangarhar province. The group, however, is far from defeated and is still influencing and recruiting foreign fighters from other Central Asian nations, particularly Tajikistan. Tajiks have long been a feature of Afghanistan’s militant landscape and though there is not a known operational network in Tajikistan, these fighters and those they inspire still pose an existential threat to the country.
The terrorist threat was highlighted again in November after a deadly attack on a border post in Ishkobod, just 30 miles west of the capital Dushanbe (Gandhara, November 6). According to Tajik authorities, at least 20 IS-K fighters entered Tajikistan from Afghanistan before making their way to the post over the course of several days and storming members of the Sultanabad border guard detachment. According to initial government statements, 15 of the assailants, a police officer, and a border guard died during the attack. IS later claimed responsibility for the attack, releasing a video claiming to be of the attackers pledging allegiance to the group’s new leader, Abu Ibrahim al-Hashemi al-Quraishi. The veracity of the claim, however, is still unclear. Similarly, the circumstances surrounding the government’s version of the story illicit serious doubts as to whether the attack emanated from Afghanistan or from within its own borders. Whether or not the government is obscuring the facts of the case is not clear, as Dushanbe has often done previously following past terrorism-related incidents.
The Tajikistani government narrative on terrorism has been focused on external threats, downplaying the reality of the internal threat from radicalized locals as well as the volume and importance of Tajiks fighting alongside IS-K in Afghanistan. Despite the government’s claim that the assailants came from Afghanistan, other sources have reported that many of the assailants were local Tajikistanis living in the country (Gandhara, November 13). Further, sources within the police have claimed more guards/police were killed than officially reported.
Aside from an Islamic State-linked attack on foreign cyclists and a prison riot by IS inmates, Tajikistan had largely been spared from significant attacks by both international terrorist organizations and radicalized individuals. The country, however, has been a noteworthy recruitment ground for the larger IS group as well as the nearby IS-K, which counts a Tajik, Sayvaly Shafiev, among its leadership (RFE/RL, August 12). This attack, regardless of some of the uncertain details, raises further concerns surrounding reports that individuals such as Shafiev have been training fighters to return to Tajikistan to establish terror cells. This is in addition to concerns regarding the return of foreign fighters, which have been dealt with haphazardly. Tajikistan has already granted amnesty to hundreds of fighters who have returned since 2015.
A clearer picture of the incident is still needed to truly address the implications of the attack, but it does raise several important issues. If the assailants did in fact cross into Tajikistan from Afghanistan, how were they able to do so undetected over such a distance and time span? Perhaps a more concerning scenario, however, would be if several of the assailants were local citizens and helped facilitate the attack alongside militants coming from Afghanistan. This would point to an even more concerning trend of the threat turning inward and the potential existence of local IS-linked cells.