Poverty 'not key in driving Indonesians to terrorism'

Indonesia police chief Badrodin Haiti talks to reporters after a meeting about counter-terrorism at the Political, Legal, and Security Ministry office in Jakarta in this Dec 21, 2015 photo.
Indonesia police chief Badrodin Haiti talks to reporters after a meeting about counter-terrorism at the Political, Legal, and Security Ministry office in Jakarta in this Dec 21, 2015 photo.PHOTO: REUTERS

Dominant factors are ideology and curiosity, says country's top cop

Poverty is no longer the primary factor that drives Indonesians towards radical Islamic causes or joining up with extremist groups like the East Indonesia Mujahidin (MIT) or the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

The surprise revelation by national police chief Badrodin Haiti on Friday seems to run contrary to widespread beliefs, including those of President Joko Widodo and other local police chiefs that economic factors play a big part in pushing people to sympathise with terror groups.

"The dominant factors are ideology and curiosity," he told The Jakarta Globe news.

Estimates from security agencies in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines show that at least 900 from all four countries have travelled to join ISIS in Syria.

The largest group, about 700, is from Indonesia, though some of these agencies have published lower numbers.

The police chief noted that most of the Indonesians who had gone to Syria to join ISIS had funded their own travels, which implies that poverty was not a determining factor in their being drawn to the terror group.

He added that ISIS recruitment and propaganda campaigns aimed at Indonesians were being carried out mostly through social media - a domain used largely by the middle class in the country.

"These days, the phenomenon of people turning to terrorism as a means of escaping poverty is no longer the dominant factor," he said.

"The percentage of such people is very small. What we most often find, in fact, is that people become terrorists because they're drawn by delusions of jihad."

The top cop's comments contradicted those made by President Joko just last month, when he said poverty and the widening social gap fuel conflict as well as separatism, radicalism and terrorism.

Meanwhile, a major anti-terror crackdown on Islamic militants in the thick jungles of Poso in Central Sulawesi, where Indonesia's most wanted terrorist is thought to be hiding, officially ended yesterday.

But Indonesia is mulling over plans to extend the operation, code-named Camar Maleo, said General Badrodin.

"We had a meeting about this recently and have produced several alternatives. We are still figuring out whether (the operation) should focus on just the region, but the most important part is that it must be effective," he told reporters after Friday prayers at the police headquarters in South Jakarta.

Gen Badrodin added that the police's elite counter-terrorism unit, Detachment 88 (Densus 88), had captured 28 terror suspects - including two key leaders of local extremist group MIT in the past year, but Abu Wardah, the high-value target, or HVT in military-speak, remains at large.

Abu Wardah, better known as Santoso, is the leader of MIT, which has pledged its allegiance to ISIS.

Security forces comprising men from Densus 88 and the Indonesian military (TNI) had stepped up the manhunt last month as they closed in on Santoso and others from MIT in Poso.

The operation resulted in the arrests of three foreign fighters believed to have been part of a gang of seven from the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, an Uighur separatist group based in the restive Xinjiang region in China.

Gen Badrodin said that although Santoso remains a key target, there is a possibility that others may rise to take his place if he is killed or captured.

"It (terrorism in Poso) will not just end; if Santoso is killed, then others will rise. This is what happens in such organisations," he added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 10, 2016, with the headline 'Poverty 'not key in driving Indonesians to terrorism''. Print Edition | Subscribe