[3 February 2022] The 2021 arrests of more than a dozen suspected terrorists in Merauke, Papua – all of them non-Papuans from Sulawesi and Java – represent the most serious extension of ISIS influence into Papua to date.
“How A Pro-ISIS Cell Emerged In Papua”, the latest report by the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC), examines how the Merauke cell developed and what measures might help strengthen defences against such groups.
“The Merauke cell shows how extremist ideology spreads through social media, marriage and migration,” says Sidney Jones, IPAC Senior Adviser. “The key figure in this cell was a man from East Java, in touch with a propagandist in Syria, who was able to connect his followers with ISIS supporters in Makassar.”
The new report traces the history of ISIS in Papua. The Merauke cell was the third to be broken up by police. Previously, there was a failed one-man effort to recruit people to Timika in 2017-18; and the flight of a dozen men from a pro-ISIS cell in Lampung, Sumatra in June 2018, after their leader was arrested. In the first case, recruitment failed because no one wanted to move to a remote conflict area. In the second, the fugitives chose Papua only because it was as far away as they could get. The Merauke group had the strongest presence of the three, building upon a mosque-based study group that had started in 2015.
One of the most striking aspects of the Merauke group is that several members were former Salafis. There is no inexorable progression from Salafism to violence and there has been strong resistance to violent jihad and especially to ISIS in the Salafi community, with a few major exceptions. But the Merauke case shows that crossover can occur if there is a leader with strong religious credentials, who can make a persuasive case to potential followers.
“The Merauke cell shows that Papua is clearly on the radar screen of different extremist groups as an area for recruitment, training and refuge,” says Jones. “The numbers are tiny and all efforts at violence have failed, but these arrests could still be the start of a more intensive effort to strengthen resilience against extremism in Papua.”