Alarming rise in support for ISIS in Indonesia, says counter-terrorism chief

In this file photograph taken on June 9, 2013, masked Indonesian Islamic militant waving the flag of Islamic State, seen at right, stage a rally against Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in Solo located in central Java island where they signified the
In this file photograph taken on June 9, 2013, masked Indonesian Islamic militant waving the flag of Islamic State, seen at right, stage a rally against Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in Solo located in central Java island where they signified their preparedness to join the war in Syria against Bashar al-Assad's regime. -- PHOTO: AFP

DEPOK, West Java (Jakarta Post/Asia News Network) - Indonesia's National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT) has warned that a lack of concerted efforts in fighting the proliferation of the radical ideology propagated by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has resulted in an unprecedented rise in the number of Indonesians leaving for the Middle East to fight for the group.

Newly-appointed BNPT chief Saud Usman Nasution said recruitment of ISIS fighters from Indonesia had jumped by more than three times in just a few months.

"In June 2014, the number of ISIS followers embarking from Indonesia was 86. The number soared to 264 in October," Saud said on the sidelines of a recent meeting of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), the nation's largest Muslim organisation.

Saud said the most recent ISIS recruits were a whole family living in Tangerang, Banten.

"The family has sold their house and all assets to move to Syria to join the IS," said Saud, refusing to elaborate further.

In total, an estimated 514 Indonesians have gone to Syria and Iraq to fight with the ISIS, around half of whom had been living in nearby countries as students or migrant workers prior to the rise of the ISIS, according to Saud.

Given that figure, Indonesia is probably the region's biggest supplier of ISIS fighters. In comparison, around 40 Malaysians, 200 Filipinos and 60 Australians have joined ISIS in Syria and Iraq, according to several media reports.

"Because Indonesia has the world's largest Muslim population, the country will always be at the centre of recruitment," Saud said.

"It's time for other stakeholders to bolster their efforts to prevent the proliferation of ISIS ideology as it will pose a risk to our security once the ISIS fighters return home," he said.

Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC) director Sidney Jones noted that the number of Indonesians who went to fight in Afghanistan from 1985 to 1994 did not exceed 300.

"We can't assume that everyone coming back from Syria is going to want to conduct violent attacks. Many went to help fight Assad (Syria President Bashar al-Assad) and have no intention of waging jihad at home," she said.

"But there will be some and the concern is that these people will now have combat experience, tactical skills, weapons knowledge, deeper ideological commitment and international connections. Even if it's just a handful of people, they could provide leadership for the tiny extremist movement here."

The government has declared ISIS an illegal organisation and ideology as they are opposed to Pancasila (Indonesia's philosophical foundation). But unlike in Malaysia and Singapore where ISIS supporters can be charged and detained upon their departure to the combat zone, Indonesia authorities still have no legal basis to do the same.

While the government has repeatedly emphasised the danger of ISIS ideology, only the BNPT and the National Police have been actively involved in prevention measures.

Other related authorities such as the Religious Affairs Ministry and the education ministries, among the biggest recipients of taxpayer money, have yet to come up with concrete actions to help fight ISIS.

Due to these shortcomings, the BNPT said Indonesian ISIS "master recruiters" could easily round up men between the age of 17 and 25 years to be sent to Syria via Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Saud said the law enforcement authorities could not charge anyone during the recruitment process unless they carry firearms or plot an attack.

State Intelligence Agency (BIN) chief Marciano Norman said the most challenging fight against ISIS was on the social media front, which has functioned as the most effective recruitment tool for ISIS.

"ISIS uses social media to massively campaign for their jihad. It attracts people to join and creates solidarity among people who have a common enemy," Marciano said.