Indonesia fights youth terrorism

Children undergoing training by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) to become soldiers, as shown in propaganda footage posted online by the terrorist group.
Children undergoing training by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) to become soldiers, as shown in propaganda footage posted online by the terrorist group.PHOTO: ISIS VIDEO
Among the children being trained by ISIS in Syria and Iraq, it is estimated that between 80 and 100 may be from Indonesia or Malaysia.
Among the children being trained by ISIS in Syria and Iraq, it is estimated that between 80 and 100 may be from Indonesia or Malaysia.PHOTO: ISIS VIDEO

New multi-agency deradicalisation effort launched

The lure of the East Indonesia Mujaheedin (MIT) was so strong that a 16-year-old from West Sumatra left home and travelled some 2,300km to Central Sulawesi to join the militant group and fight for its cause.

When troops involved in Operation Tinombala, whose mission was to capture remnants of the MIT, found the teenager in Poso last month, he had only the clothes on his back and 86,000 rupiah, or less than S$10, on him.

Ari, not his real name, was on his way to Gunung Biru, or Blue Mountain, a known hideout of the militants once led by Santoso, Indonesia's most wanted terrorist until he was killed in July during a gunfight with soldiers.

The boy learnt about the MIT from social media, and was reportedly radicalised by a friend he met online, who later led him to Poso.

Ari has since been sent home to his parents in Agam, a regency in West Sumatra. The decision not to detain Ari was a conscious one made by the authorities as part of a new deradicalisation strategy.

"He is very young, so it would be better to try to understand why he did what he did," said Operation Tinombala spokesman Hari Suprapto.

Indonesia has seen a number of terrorism cases involving young men, including 18-year-old Ivan Armadi Hasugian who in August stabbed a Catholic priest in a Medan church after the bomb he was carrying failed to detonate.

A RISK THAT COULD MULTIPLY

If there are indeed 500 (Indonesian militants) in Syria, and every man has two kids, that is a risk of having 1,000 more militants. And there are many kids in similar situations, so we have to save these kids.

BNPT CHIEF SUHARDI ALIUS, on why there is a need to focus on youth and children

FIGHTING ON THE DIGITAL FRONT

...in a recent survey we learnt that our high school kids spend an average of 181 minutes a day on the Internet. Imagine how easy it will be for radicalism to penetrate through their smartphones.

BNPT CHIEF SUHARDI ALIUS, on why a special team tasked with combating radical campaigns online was formed

Many teenagers like Ari and Ivan are now the focus of a fledgling multi-agency deradicalisation effort.

The aim is to reach out to the young in a bid to prevent early indoctrination of extremism, particularly from members of domestic terror groups loyal to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

The authorities say it will be an extension of the country's tough enforcement strategy against radicalism, traditionally led by the police and the National Counter-Terrorism Agency (BNPT). The two will still be involved, but educational programmes will also be introduced through the Ministry of Social Affairs and religious groups such as the Nahdhatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah. These initiatives will be tailored to teenagers and children, including those who are related to hardcore militants and former or current terrorist inmates, who have a higher risk of being radicalised.

In July, Europol warned that children of foreign fighters in ISIS territories are being trained to be next- generation terrorists. The report came after ISIS posted propaganda videos and photos online featuring teenagers and children with assault rifles and other weaponry. There was also a chilling image of a toddler "beheading" a white teddy bear in front of the group's black flag.

One video posted in May specifically showed boys from Indonesia and Malaysia training with firearms at a paramilitary camp in Syria.

More than 70 Malaysians and 500 Indonesians are said to have travelled to the Middle East to fight alongside ISIS. Most of the married militants often make the trip with their wives and children. But many may return soon as coalition forces close in on Mosul, the last remaining urban stronghold of ISIS in Iraq.

Jakarta-based radicalism expert Adhe Bhakti estimates that between 80 and 100 children may have made it to Iraq or Syria, but admitted it remains a challenge for any authority to determine the actual number.

Security agencies, such as the Detachment 88 counter-terrorism unit, have also flagged "child terrorism as a looming threat", said an officer who cannot be named due to the nature of his work in the unit.

"It is on the rise, that is why we are working with KPAI," he said, referring to Indonesia's Child Protection Commission which is helping the unit resolve cases involving youth.

BNPT chief Suhardi Alius agreed that the rising number of terrorism cases involving children related to militants is a real concern. "If there are indeed 500 (Indonesian militants) in Syria, and every man has two kids, that is a risk of having 1,000 more militants," he said. "And there are many kids in similar situations, so we have to save these kids."

General Suhardi recounted the case involving the son of terrorist Imam Samudra, who was executed for his role in the 2002 Bali bombings. He added: "At the time of the bombings, his son was only two years old. Recently he travelled to Syria, where he was killed."

Early discussions of the new programmes mainly focus on offering holistic education from a younger age, said Social Affairs Minister Khofifah Indar Parawansa. For instance, children will learn more about the importance of living in harmony from early childhood education, said the minister. "A child will then develop a sense of moderation and tolerance," she said.

Madam Khofifah also said her ministry and the BNPT have identified areas in four provinces where social assistance will be prioritised. She said part of the focus will be to help former militants reconcile with society.

One of the immediate plans of the initiative, however, will centre on social media, said General Suhardi. The BNPT has set up a special team tasked with countering any radical campaigns online. "This is because in a recent survey we learnt that our high school kids spend an average of 181 minutes a day on the Internet," he said. "Imagine how easy it will be for radicalism to penetrate through their smartphones."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 24, 2016, with the headline 'Indonesia fights youth terrorism'. Print Edition | Subscribe