Disunity Among Indonesian ISIS Supporters and the Risk of More Violence

(Jakarta, 2 February 2016)  Competition among Indonesian ISIS leaders is increasing the risk of more violence.

Disunity among Indonesian ISIS Supporters and the Risk of More Violence, the latest report from the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC), looks at the Jakarta attack on 14 January 2016 in the context of rivalry among Indonesian ISIS leaders in Syria and different pro-ISIS groups in Indonesia. The bombing and shooting in Indonesia’s capital killed four civilians and four terrorists.

“The Jakarta attack is now known to have been locally organised – not directed from Syria as originally thought – but it almost instantly resulted in instructions from a Syria-based leader to his followers to do one better,” says Sidney Jones, IPAC director. “Leaders of Indonesia’s tiny pro-ISIS camp are competing to prove their fighting credentials.”

The report examines how these rivalries emerged. The Jakarta attack appears to have been carried out by members of a group known as Partisans of the Caliphate (Jamaah Anshar Khilafah, JAK), whose ideological leader is detained cleric Aman Abdurrahman. Aman has fallen out with the top Indonesian in Syria, Bahrumsyah, who commands Katibah Nusantara, the main Indonesian-Malaysian military unit in ISIS. He is close to Bahrumsyah’s rival, Abu Jandal, who heads a dissident unit. Bahrumsyah is the Indonesian with best access to central ISIS leaders and funds, but the fact that official ISIS media claimed credit for the Jakarta attacks may have boosted Abu Jandal’s position.

A third Indonesian, Bahrun Naim, has tried to steer clear of that rivalry but has been trying on his own to encourage and fund attacks in Indonesia and elsewhere in Southeast Asia. Because he tried to direct attacks on Java in August and December 2015, he was immediately named as the mastermind of the 14 January plot, but to date, no evidence of his involvement has been uncovered. 

Several other groups have pledged loyalty to ISIS and are committed to attacks on its enemies in Indonesia – police, foreigners and Shi’a – but do not want to submit to Aman Abdurrahman’s leadership.

“Indonesian police have done good work in foiling several other terrorism attempts but this one-upmanship among pro-ISIS leaders has suddenly made their task much tougher,” says Jones.

The Indonesian government has responded to the Jakarta attacks by focusing on the need for stronger anti-terrorism legislation and shutting down extremist websites, but much more needs to be done on the prevention side. In particular the prison system – where plots are hatched, travel arranged, and ISIS supporters recruited – needs urgent attention, particularly through more systematic training of prison personnel tasked with direct supervision of extremist inmates.

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©2013 Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict.