Indonesian families lured to ISIS by promise of homes, jobs and money

They are promised a house, a job and 20 million rupiah (S$2,200) or more each if they join the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group. In short, a life with one's family awaits in a new land where all live under Islamic rule.

And now, a video of Malay-speaking children studying, praying and getting weapons training adds to the propaganda that families can join ISIS, say analysts.

"Images of children using guns mixed with clips of them praying are attempts to show how creating a 'God's Army' has to start from young. (It's) a distorted idea," said terrorism analyst Taufik Andrie.

It also suggests that families can be good Muslims and defend their faith in the new Islamic state rather than in Indonesia, which is secular, added Mr Taufik, executive director at the Institute for International Peace Building.

Such propaganda has led groups of Indonesians or families to make the long trek to join ISIS, according to Indonesian police.

Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim-majority country, practises a tolerant brand of Islam. It has cracked down on major terrorist networks like the Al-Qaeda linked Jemaah Islamiah, but radical fringe groups remain, some of them pro-ISIS.

Commenting on the video yesterday, Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Tedjo Edhy Purdijatno said: "This is something we should prevent. If the children are trained by ISIS, they will pose a threat if they return to Indonesia."

On Monday, police spokesman Rikwanto, who goes by one name, told reporters that a group of 16 Indonesians - mostly women and children from three families - were detained in Turkey in late January. They were drawn by the lure of waging a holy war and the promise of receiving 20 million rupiah or more, he added.

One of the women is the widow of terrorist Hidayat who was killed in 2013. Hidayat was linked to a group based in Poso, Central Sulawesi, and led by Indonesia's most wanted terrorist Santoso.

Referring to this group, Mr Tedjo said that Indonesian children taken to Syria could become more dangerous than their parents after living there.

Another group of 16 Indonesians went missing while on a tour in Turkey late last month, and are believed to be in Syria. A team of Indonesian officials are in Turkey trying to locate them.

There have also been cases of Indonesians who were caught before they could get to Syria.

"ISIS is looking for skilled people to help set up the new state. It needs people and invites women and children to accompany their men to complete a family. It is building housing, schools and providing jobs, just like any community," said Mr Taufik.

Said counter-terrorism chief Saud Usman Nasution: "It is difficult to determine how many are in ISIS-controlled areas in Syria because they may not have left directly from Indonesia.

"The threat (of ISIS) is real, even if we are not near the Middle East," he told The Straits Times.

The Foreign Ministry has urged Indonesians with family members or relatives studying in the Middle East to keep close tabs on them.

There have also been calls for the government to do more at the grassroots levels so people know what they could be getting into.

Said Mr Taufik: "People in the villages do not understand the real situation. They are fooled by propaganda that life under ISIS means fulfilling their obligation to live an Islamic life."

zubaidah@sph.com.sg