The Wider Influences on Southeast Asian Terrorism

Publication: Terrorism Focus Volume: 1 Issue: 5

Indications of a long-term plan to keep the Southeast Asia region boiling come from Indonesian police reports of two developments: the hunt for Malaysian bomb maker Azahari Husin and Noordin Mohammed Top, and the investigation of video recordings seized from Indonesian Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) militants.

According to the police statement, Azahari Husin and Noordin Mohammed Top were aiming to increase the frequency of attacks — which since the Bali bombings of 2002 have already accounted for 223 deaths — and stage deadly attacks every six months. Azahari and Noordin are at present the subject of a wide-ranging manhunt across Indonesia. The focus for Azahari is Yogyakarta, while Noordin is being searched for at Bandung in central Java. A reward of up to $155,000 is being offered for information leading to their arrest.

Investigating authorities are piecing together operational and financial links between JI and al-Qaeda. The South-East Asian JI group is held to have received funding to the tune of $50,000 from al-Qaeda to carry out the suicide attack on the Marriott Hotel last year, and the explosion outside the Australian embassy on September 9 this year.

However, the influences upon JI appear to be more broad-ranging. According to a September 27 report in the Star, there are indications that the Chechen experience is being closely followed by radical groups linked to JI. From VCDs seized by Indonesian police, a great deal of material on the Chechen conflict, romanticizing the struggle and glorifying the exploits of Arab leader in the field, Ibn Khattab, has received wide circulation. A collection of over 24 VCDs, grouped under the title Neraka Rusia (‘Russia’s Hell’) also contain detailed training materials on the manufacture and employment of land mines and bombs, illustrated by their tactical use in the Caucasus. They have been appearing at rallies in Indonesia organized by a number of militant / jihadist groups, including the Komite Aksi Penanggulangan Akibat Krisis (Kompak), a group considered to include numerous JI members, the Wahdah Islamiyah, an Islamist group based at Makassar on the island of Sulawesi, and the Majlis Mujahideen Indonesia (MMI) headed by the Indonesian cleric Abubakar Ba’asyir, considered the spiritual leader of the JI and currently facing terrorism charges.

At least three Indonesian JI leaders are known to have traveled to Chechnya, either to establish links with the mujahideen there or to participate actively in their cause for an Islamic state. The ideological, or emotive, influence of the Chechen struggle is borne out by the evidence of Mohd Mansour Jabarah, according to the Singapore Straits Times. Mohd Mansour, who is at present held in the United States after being arrested in Oman in 2002, is believed to have outlined to security officials how he was tasked with establishing links and a co-operative infrastructure in Southeast Asia between the JI, al-Qaeda and the Chechens.

The indications of links between the JI and the Chechens, links recently revealed by Malaysian security service investigations on local groups, add up to more than mere financial and moral support. As the VCDs indicate, the evidence points to an attempt to emulate the more aggressive tactics used by the Chechens. Land mines, for instance, have yet to be employed by JI leaders in training in Indonesia and the Philippines. Of greater concern for the likely future direction of jihadist violence in Southeast Asia, is the inordinate interest taken – again as evidenced by the VCDs – in the use of what has come to be a trademark of Chechen attacks: the use of women in suicide bombings.