As Indonesia hunts down Islamic State, homegrown jihadis regroup
As Indonesian counter-terrorism forces hunt down supporters of Islamic State following last month`s gun and suicide bomb attack in Jakarta, a quiet resurgence is unfolding of a homegrown radical network with a far deadlier track record here.
Jakarta: As Indonesian counter-terrorism forces hunt down supporters of Islamic State following last month`s gun and suicide bomb attack in Jakarta, a quiet resurgence is unfolding of a homegrown radical network with a far deadlier track record here.
That group is Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), whose network was until recently thought to have been severely degraded by a crackdown that put hundreds of its leaders and followers behind bars after a series of attacks on Western interests in the 2000s.
But Reuters interviews with two active and one former member of Jemaah Islamiyah have revealed that it is active again, enlisting new supporters, raising funds and sending men to train in war-torn Syria.
"JI is currently in preparation level. They have not done any operations but they are recruiting people, strengthening their knowledge, education, network and finances," said Nasir Abas, a former member. "I would not underestimate them."
Jakarta-based security analyst Sidney Jones believes Jemaah Islamiyah`s membership is back to around 2,000, where it was before its most notorious attack, a bombing on the resort island of Bali that killed over 200 people, most of them Australians. JI suspects arrested recently were found with caches of arms.
Experts say there is no evidence that the emergence of the ultra-violent group Islamic State from the crucible of conflict in the Middle East has prompted the revival of Jemaah Islamiyah in Indonesia, the world`s most populous Muslim nation.
Jemaah Islamiyah had links in the past to al-Qaeda, which Islamic State sees as a rival, but its resurgence is not being read as intra-jihadi competition playing out in Southeast Asia.
Islamic State stamped its presence in the region for the first time last month when local supporters of the group launched a broad-daylight assault at a busy intersection in central Jakarta with explosives and guns. Eight people were killed, four of them the attackers themselves.
Police are on alert for further strikes by Islamic State followers, but say these are likely to be far from the scale of the attack on Paris last November because the group lacks organisational strength in Indonesia.
They believe Jemaah Islamiyah`s sophisticated training, organisation, and funding could pose a bigger security threat.
Former Jemaah Islamiyah member Nasir Abas said its ranks still include older men who trained in Afghanistan in the 1980s and returned with combat experience and bomb-making skills.
Then there is the more ample funding: Experts estimate that the weapons used in last month`s attack on the Indonesian capital cost no more than $70, a shoestring budget compared to the $50,000 spent to launch the Bali bombings back in 2002.
Jemaah Islamiyah once had cells across Southeast Asia, including Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand, with a goal of establishing an Islamic state across the region.