Teaching jihad in Indonesian prisons
Porong Prison: A sweeping crackdown on terrorism in the past decade has spawned a new problem in Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation: Militants in jail are recruiting new followers to their cause.
Prisons threaten to undermine the progress made against terrorism here since 2002, when nightclub bombings killed 202 people on the tourist island of Bali, many of them Australians and Americans.
The campaign has assumed global importance because of feared links between Southeast Asian terrorist groups and al Qaeda. That possibility was underlined by the January arrest of Bali bombing suspect Umar Patek in Abbottabad, the same Pakistani town where Osama bin Laden was killed in May.
A news agency was granted two days of unfettered access to Porong prison in early June by the chief warden, who wanted to show that changes were being made to limit the influence of jihadist inmates. While there were improvements, interviews with terrorists and other convicts show how openly the former still court some of the latter.
Porong is a huddle of low concrete buildings set on 40 acres (15 hectares) near Surabaya, the country's second-biggest city. It is home to 27 terrorists — some of the 150 currently held in prisons across the sprawling Indonesian archipelago.
Block F is technically reserved for terrorists but also accommodates about 50 others because of overcrowding. The prison, designed to hold 1,000 inmates, has 1,327.
An elaborate green garden flourishes in the thick heat. Bearded terrorists tend ducks, and fish splash in small ponds. Some militants play sports with other inmates, while others read the Quran or teach Islam to ordinary prisoners.
"We only explain what they should know about jihad," said Syamsuddin, who is serving a life sentence for his role in a gun attack on a karaoke club in Ambon that killed two Christians in 2005. "It's up to them whether to accept it or not."
Syamsuddin was trained in bomb-making by alleged al Qaeda terrorist Omar al-Farouq during Muslim-Christian conflict in Ambon between 1999 and 2002.
Muhammad Syarif Tarabubun, a former police officer, was sentenced to 15 years for his role in the same attack. He laughed easily and smiled broadly as he explained his extremist views. He said he plans to join a jihad in Afghanistan, Iraq or Lebanon after his likely early release in 2013 for good behavior.
"The death of Osama bin Laden will not ruin our spirit for jihad," he said. "We do it not for a figure. We do it for God's blessing."
Radicalisation is common in Pakistan's and Afghanistan's overcrowded prisons, where thousands of terrorists and insurgents mix freely with others, according to a 15-country study by the London-based International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence.
In the US, Omar Abdel Rahman, the blind sheik behind the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, managed to send inflammatory messages from his prison cell to followers in Egypt. There is debate over whether and how far Islamic radicals are infiltrating US prisons.
One exception may be Saudi Arabia, which is fending off radicalisation in prisons through an unusually well-funded and comprehensive program. Its "golden handcuffs" approach of finding wives for captured terrorists and enmeshing them in a web of personal, financial, religious and professional obligations once released is regarded as pioneering.
In Indonesia, experts say, some radicals finish their sentences with an even greater commitment to deadly jihad. Of 120 arrested and 25 killed in raids since February 2010, some 26 had previously been in prison for terrorist acts, according to the International Crisis Group, which researches deadly conflict.
Sidney Jones, one of the group's Southeast Asia terrorism experts, calls Indonesia's prisons the weakest link in the counterterrorism effort. "It's going to undermine everything that the police are doing to break up these networks," she said.