[Jakarta, 2 November 2022] The capacity of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) to rebuild after a punishing police crackdown may depend on its ability to protect the members it regards as its greatest assets: the dozens of young men trained in Syria since 2012. These men constitute the next generation of JI leadership, since they now possess the two qualities most valued by the organization: religious knowledge and military experience. If JI cannot keep them safe and if it cannot find new training sites for younger cadres, its continued existence could be at stake.
Jemaah Islamiyah’s Military Training Programs, the latest report from the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC), examines how JI, under the leadership of Para Wijayanto, unsuccessfully tried to resume military training programs for its members in Mindanao but eventually managed to send some hundred men to in Syria.
“JI is facing the biggest crisis of its nearly 30-year existence,” says Sidney Jones, IPAC’s Senior Advisor. “In its desperation to save its most valued younger members, JI might try to smuggle them out of the country to prevent their arrest but the chances that it would succeed are not high.”
This report examines JI’s efforts to recruit and train a new generation and looks at what we know about those who went abroad, those who returned home and those who have been arrested. In 2011, JI set up an international relations unit that tried to resume training in Mindanao where many of JI’s current leaders had trained in the late 1990s and early 2000s. This plan failed because of the refusal of JI’s old allies in the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) to even contemplate a resumption of contacts. But JI continued to provide financial support to 11 of its members, still believed to be in Mindanao. JI then turned to Syria, opening channels to several different militias between 2012 and 2017. It was reportedly planning to explore training possibilities with the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba when the head of the international relations unit, Para Wijayanto’s son Askary, was arrested in March 2022.
JI leaders rose in the ranks after gaining combat experience training, first in Afghanistan in the late 1980s and early 1990s, then in Mindanao through 2003. The report concludes that in the present circumstances, JI’s options for rebuilding and regeneration are limited. Some in JI see the Mindanao-based members as a lifeline, the people who might possibly help provide refuge to the Syria-trained returnees. But there are major obstacles to getting the latter out of the country, including increased vigilance on the part of police and immigration authorities in neighbouring countries.
“In the past, JI has always been able to draw on a sizeable pool of cadres to replenish a depleted leadership,” says Jones. “This time around, it may be more difficult.”