The Role of Kinship in Indonesia’s Jemaah Islamiya

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 11

On April 29, the Indonesian police raided the safe house of Jemaah Islamiya (JI) senior member Noordin Mohammed Top in Wonosobo, Central Java. Noordin, Southeast Asia’s most wanted terrorist, eluded capture by escaping only hours before police arrived at his hideout. Two of his trusted men, however, were killed and another two were arrested (, April 29).

JI has been weakened by arrests and other counter-terrorism measures since the 2002 Bali bombings that killed more than 202 people, mostly foreigners, with several hundred more injured. Terrorists have struck with murderous effects twice in Jakarta and once more in Bali since the first major bombings. These events demonstrate that all parts of the terrorist network have not ceased jihadi operations.

JI has survived partly because it is held together by an intricate pattern of kinship.

Generally, people do not gravitate to JI due to some individual pathology. Indeed, most recruits look, dress and behave like normal individuals, at least until they are given a deadly mission or are deeply engaged with the JI ideology and group. The choice to become a terrorist or engage in terrorist activities is a gradual process with many routes toward this type of political violence.

Once inside the group, JI members tend to cement ideological and other bonds by marrying the sisters and daughters of their comrades-in-arms. This is a unique tool utilized for recruitment and for further engagement in the JI cause, thus limiting disengagement options for JI members and blocking effective counter-terrorism tactics.

Therefore, it becomes difficult for a member to defect from JI without seeming to betray his family in the process of disengagement. Kinship ties help to keep the network secure from infiltration. JI as a case study offers several examples highlighting the complexity of kinship links in terrorism, such as relationships between two or more male siblings, between in-laws, between fathers and sons, as well as more distant kinship relations.

Sibling Relationships

The use of sibling relationships in jihadi recruitment is to provide further ideological support for the recruits beyond the group itself. Sometimes two or more brothers are recruited for jihad, helping each other during an operation and providing each other inspiration and reassurance. This particular type of recruitment is an effective use of kinship to ensure deeper engagement with the cause and group.

One example of such sibling kinship and terrorism is the family of Achmad Kandai. In the 1950s, he belonged to the hard-core movement Darul Islam, which tried to assassinate the first Indonesian President Sukarno in 1957. Darul Islam is an Islamic Indonesian rebellion movement whose aim has been to turn the country into a state ruled by Islamic law. For more than five decades, Darul spawned many offshoots and splinters that committed violent acts in the name of jihad [1].

Nasir, a brother of Kandai’s, worked with Abdullah Sungkar and Abubakar Ba’asyir, two successive spiritual heads of JI in Malaysia in the 1980s and 1990s. Kandai’s sons Farihin bin Ahmad, Abdul Jabar, Mohammed Islam and Solahudin all became jihadists. In August 2000, Ahmad and Jabar participated in the attack on the Philippine ambassador’s Jakarta residence that killed two people and injured 22 others, including Ambassador Leonides Caday (Washington Diplomat, August 1, 2000).

Mohammed Islam, the third brother, became involved in several bombings during the religious conflict in Poso in Central Sulawesi where violence between Muslims and Christians led to hundreds of deaths on both sides between late 1998 and 2002 (and where intermittent violence continues to this day) [2].

The fourth brother, Solahudin, was among those arrested in the April 29 raid in Wonosobo, Central Java. He is now under police interrogation for his involvement in a series of terrorist attacks including the bombing of the Atrium shopping mall in August 2001 where the designated bomber lost his leg and was arrested after the bomb he was carrying blew up prematurely [3].

The complex kinship relations found in terrorism, illustrated by the Kandai family, is not an anomaly in the JI terrorist faction. The al-Ghozi family is another jihadi family. Faturrahman al-Ghozi, who was shot and killed by the Philippine police in 2003, was one of JI’s main bomb-makers. Among other actions, he was the perpetrator of the devastating Rizal Day bombing in Manila in 2000 that killed 12 people and wounded 19 others (Inquirer News Service, July 8, 2003).

Al-Ghozi’s father was a Darul Islam member who was jailed during the Suharto era. A younger brother, Ahmad Rofiq Ridho, is now standing trial on several charges including sheltering the Malaysian JI member Noordin Mohammed Top. Last year, Ridho set a precedent for JI by marrying his brother’s widow in a ceremony in a Jakarta police detention facility [4].

Gempur Angkoro, whose alias is Jabir, is al-Ghozi’s cousin and was one of Top’s most trusted men; he, too, was killed in the April 29 raid. Jabir assembled the bombs used in the deadly attacks in Jakarta at the Australian Embassy in 2004 and the JW Marriott hotel in 2003 (Jakarta Post, May 2).

The first Bali bombing introduced three brothers to the outside world: Ali Ghufron (Mukhlas), Amrozi and Ali Imron. The first two are now on death row. Ali Ghufron was in charge of overall supervision of the bombing. Amrozi procured the chemicals and vehicles needed for the attack, while the third brother coordinated transport of the bomb [5]. Another set of brothers, Herlambang and Hernianto, were also involved. Hernianto later died in jail, allegedly of a kidney complaint.

Hambali and Rusman Gunawan, whose alias is Gun Gun, are another set of JI brothers. Hambali, now in U.S. detention, was JI’s liaison with al-Qaeda. Gun Gun was involved in the Marriott hotel bombing in 2003. He attended university in Pakistan and from late 2002 took over as the intermediary for e-mail messages between al-Qaeda and Hambali, who was then hiding in Cambodia [6].

There was also a set of JI brothers in Singapore, Faiz and Fatihi bin Abu Bakar Bafana. Faiz was treasurer of the first JI region, or Mantiqi 1 (JI’s regional division that provides the economic wherewithal for JI operations), and has admitted to receiving funds from Osama bin Laden via Hambali. Fatihi carried out reconnaissance against Western targets in Singapore [7]. Mantiqi 1 was initially led by Hambali and subsequently replaced by Ali Ghufron (Mukhlas) in 2001 [8].

The cell in Singapore was started by Afghanistan alumni Ibrahim Maidin in 1988-1989. He was arrested in 2001 and another Afghanistan alumnus, Mas Selamat Kastari, assumed leadership until he was arrested in early 2003. Before it was broken up by the Singaporean intelligence agencies, JI had 60 to 80 members. No more than 25 members were operatives. As of May, there are 36 people detained in Singapore under the Internal Security Act (ISA) for terrorism activities in support of JI leaders and/or the Moro Islamic Liberation Movement (MILF) [9].

In-Law Relationships

Kinship ties also include in-laws. Ali Ghufron married Farida, younger sister of Nasir bin Abas, a Malaysian who once served as Mantiqi 3 chairman. Nasir, who abandoned the JI cause and wrote a book entitled Exposing Jemaah Islamiya, was sufficiently loyal to his brother-in-law to write that he had been the best possible husband for his sister. Another JI member, Syamsul Bahri, is another of Nasir’s brothers-in-laws [10].

Taufiq Abdul Halim, the Malaysian who lost part of his leg in the Atrium bombing, is the brother-in-law of Zulkifli Hir, a leader of a Malaysian jihadi group, which was responsible for a series of crimes including the assassination of a state assemblyman [11].

Another example is Datuk Rajo Ameh, who participated in the Christmas Eve bombing in 2000 among other attacks. He is the father-in-law of JI member Joni Hendrawan, who was involved in the first Bali bombing and the 2003 Marriott attack [12]. Muhammad Rais, another Marriott figure, is the brother-in-law of Top. Rais recruited a suicide bomber for the Marriott bombing [13].

Fathers and Sons

Anxious for their offspring’s safety and with an eye to regenerating JI, senior members sent their children to study in Karachi, where they formed the so-called al-Ghuraba (the foreigners) cell.

During university break, some members of the group went to Afghanistan for a course in urban warfare. Six of them traveled to Pakistan-controlled parts of Kashmir where Lashkar-e-Toiba, a guerrilla movement affiliated with al-Qaeda, gave them a month of physical and military training. Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency discovered the group in September 2003 [14]. Abdul Rohim, Abubakar Ba’asyir’s son, was the cell leader [15]. One of its members was Abu Dzar, whose father is a long-time associate of Hambali’s and two of whose uncles are JI members. Abu Dzar’s uncle, Muhamad Ismail Anwarul, who drove a taxi in Singapore, would later attend an al-Qaeda training camp in Kandahar during 2001. His sister had recently married Masran bin Arshad, the leader of Khalid Sheikh Mohammad’s alleged suicide cell [16].

Another cell member was the Malaysian Muhammad Ikhwan, whose father, Abdullah Daud, attended an al-Qaeda surveillance course in Kabul in 2000. Ikhwan’s older sister married another JI member. Likewise, the father of Singaporean student Mohammad Riza was sent by JI’s Mantiqi 1 for military training in Mindanao [17].

Arranged Marriages

Arranging marriages between members of JI families was the ideal way of forging permanent alliances. JI spiritual leaders could play the roles of both matchmaker and marriage celebrant.

Abdullah Sungkar married two of his stepdaughters to senior jihadis—Ferial Muchlis bin Abdul Halim, a head of the Selangor JI cell, and Syawal Yassin, a prominent South Sulawesi figure and former military trainer in Afghanistan. Sungkar had been the celebrant at the 1984 marriage of future Mantiqi 4 leader Abdul Rohim Ayub and the Australian Rabiyah [18].

Haris Fadillah is a hard-core Darul Islam militia leader who fought and died in communal religious conflict in Ambon, Maluku, where thousands of Muslims and Christians lost their lives; many villages and places of worship were destroyed. He arranged the marriage of his daughter, Mira Augustina, to Indonesia-based al-Qaeda operative Omar al-Faruq. Following her husband’s arrest in June 2002, Mira acknowledged that she had married al-Faruq the first day she met him [19].

In the same vein, Jack Thomas, an Australian jihadi, married the Indonesian Maryati in South Africa on the recommendation of his JI friends. Thomas, who even adopted the name “Jihad,” likewise married his wife the day he met her. A Singapore jihadi called Jauhari testified in court that the Indonesian preacher Abu Jibril had helped choose his wife for him and that Abdullah Sungkar had married them at Abu Jibril’s house [20].

As for Hambali, he married a part-Chinese woman, Noralwizah Lee, who converted to Islam. Like male JI members, Lee used several aliases and was active in recruiting women to the cause. The couple first met at a function held by one of the women’s groups under Abdullah Sungkar’s auspices. The author established in interviews with one of the participating lecturers that one topic offered was “Women and Jihad” [21]. Lee shared Hambali’s fate by being arrested in Thailand with him in August 2003.

Noordin Mohammed Top found time to take a second wife, Munfiatun al-Fitri, in a marriage arranged by Surabaya JI members in 2004. Like Ali Ghufron’s wife, Munfiatun is well-educated and graduated in agriculture at East Java’s Brawijaya University (Jakarta Post, March 8).


Understanding kinship ties in the jihadi network in Indonesia and beyond is critical. Without such ties, many alienated young Muslim men would not have become or remained jihadis. Kinship is particularly important in a clandestine organization like JI where maintaining relations of trust and confidence is crucial for survival. Additionally, jihadi organizations have the unusual advantage of having their own religiously qualified members available to officiate at the creation of new marital bonds.

Relatives of identified terrorists need to be closely monitored and investigated wherever they reside. Especially important are those who went to the same mosque and school, or who participated in the same military training either in local areas or abroad such as in Afghanistan or in Moro Islamic Liberation Front camps.

It is essential not to underestimate previous informal membership in action-oriented groups such as soccer or cricket that may facilitate the passage from radicalization into jihad and onto joining suicide attack teams. Lastly, profiling of jihadi families by looking at their social backgrounds is useful. It is also crucial to look at the ways in which a person gets drawn into terrorism and from that to develop counter-terrorism strategies.


1. An interview with one of Darul Islam’s leaders, Gaos Taufiq, in 2005 in Medan, North Sumatra. Taufiq said that Darul Islam sent 360 members to participate in military training in Afghanistan. Some of these people would later emerge as the fighters of today’s Jemaah Islamiya.

2. In interviews in 2005, Nasir Abas, head of Mantiqi 3, one of JI’s strategic area divisions, which covered the geographical region of the Philippines and Sulawesi and was responsible for military training and arms supplies, said that Poso had the potential to develop into a qoidah aminah, a secure area where residents can live by Islamic principles and law. In their view, such a base could then serve as the building block of an Islamic state; Maluku and Poso, therefore, remain a focus for religious outreach and recruitment efforts.

3. An interview with Farihin bin Ahmad in Jakarta in 2005.

4. An interview with Ahmad Rofiq Ridho in Jakarta prison in 2005.

5. An interview with Ali Imron in Jakarta Prison in 2005.

6. An interview with Rusman Gunawan in Jakarta Prison in 2005.

7. Ken Conboy, The Second Front Inside Asia’s most Dangerous Terrorist Network, Equinox Publishing (Asia) Pte. Ltd. Indonesia, 2005.

8. ICG Asia Report No 63, August 26, 2003.

9. White Paper, The Jemaah Islamiya Arrests and the Threat of Terrorism, The Singapore Minister of Home Affairs, January 7, 2003.

10. An interview with Nasir bin Abbas in Jakarta in 2005.

11. An interview with Taufiq Abdul Halim in Jakarta Prison in 2004.

12. An interview with Joni Hendrawan in Jakarta Prison in 2005.

13. An interview with Muhammad Rais in Jakarta Prison in 2005.

14. Conboy.

15. An interview with Abdur Rahim in Solo, Central Java in 2004.

16. Conboy.

17. Conboy.

18. ICG Asia Report No 63.

19. An interview with Mira Agustina in Bogor, West Java in 2004.

20. ICG Asia Report No 63.

21. An interview with Muyazin in Solo in 2004.