President Jokowi visiting the site of the destruction caused by bombs in Sibolga, North Sumatra, in March 2019.
The Ongoing Problem of Pro-ISIS Cells in Indonesia

[Jakarta, 29 April 2019] Pro-ISIS cells in Indonesia have been emboldened, not discouraged, by ISIS defeats in the Middle East although their capacity to undertake terrorist attacks remains low.  Indonesian counter-terrorism police generally have a good handle on extremist networks and as Internet recruitment has increased, their capacity to detect extremist groups online has also grown. But the proliferation of cells remains cause for concern, because it would take only one to slip through the cracks and do serious damage. In the wake of the Sri Lanka attacks, Indonesia needs to be particularly alert to the increased role of pro-ISIS women; possibly enhanced attraction of churches as targets; and the possibility of someone with international jihad experience entering the country.

These issues are outlined in “The Ongoing Problem of Pro-ISIS Cells in Indonesia”, the latest report from the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC). The new report examines the emergence of independent cells that have no affiliation to the largest pro-ISIS coalition in the country, Jamaah Ansharul Daulah (JAD). Members have been motivated not only by the ISIS directive to wage war at home but also by the desire to prove that they can pull off an act of violence bigger and better than anything JAD could manage.

“These groups by and large come together with little vetting, training, indoctrination, weapons or experience. What they have in unlimited quantities is zeal and a desire for recognition,” says Sidney Jones, IPAC director.

They also have instructional materials for making bombs left behind by the late Bahrun Naim, an Indonesian who joined ISIS in Syria in early 2015 and died in an airstrike in November 2018. His online manuals, first posted on blogs, then circulated on social media and eventually compiled into an e-book, have become required reading for any would-be terrorist interested in planning an attack.

The report looks at five independent cells that emerged in 2017 and 2018 as well as at the network involved in a bombing in Sibolga, North Sumatra in March 2019 that flattened four houses and damaged 150 more but miraculously only killed the woman bomber and her child. Together the cases show how online recruiting has become more important as face-to-face meetings become harder; how the role of women has increased; and why police remain the No.1 target.

Thus far the danger of ISIS fighters coming back from Syria to lead one of these cells has not materialised, though it remains a concern. The collapse of ISIS territory has left an unknown number of Indonesians stranded, with over 80 men, women and children believed to be in Kurdish detention and perhaps hundreds of others holding out elsewhere in Syria. Some of these individuals may find their way back, and Indonesian police and immigration officials will have to be more alert than ever.

“For now,” says Jones, “the biggest threat continues to come from ISIS supporters who never left, not those coming back.”

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©2013 Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict.