Indonesians who join ISIS risk losing citizenship

They could be barred from ever returning to homeland, in effort to prevent repeat of Jakarta siege

Mr Luhut, Indonesia's security czar, aims to boost the powers of the police and other security agencies so they can pre-empt terror activities in the country. PHOTO: COURTESYOF B.B. HALIM

Indonesians who join the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) risk losing their citizenship and could be barred from ever returning to their homeland, said the country's security czar, Mr Luhut Pandjaitan.

The Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs said the move is part of a wider effort to prevent a repeat of the recent attack in downtown Jakarta.

"We will take away their passports, so they will never be allowed back into Indonesia," he said yesterday. He was speaking to The Straits Times at Kemenkopolhukam, his office in Central Jakarta, exactly a week after the siege by four ISIS loyalists on Jan 14.

Indonesia has responded swiftly since the siege on the busy intersection along the Thamrin boulevard, which left eight dead, including the four militants who mounted the brazen attack.

Two off-duty police officers, reinforced by more of their uniformed counterparts, managed to neutralise the terrorists within 11 minutes after the first bomb went off.

Updates from the police in recent days indicated that there were at least six explosions that day. A suicide bomber ignited the first blast outside a Starbucks cafe just off Jalan M.H. Thamrin.

  • 2.7 million involved in terror activities

  • Indonesia's National Counter- terrorism Agency (BNPT) estimates that 2.7 million Indonesians, or about 1 per cent of its 250 million-strong population, may be involved, directly or indirectly, in terror activities.

    This does not include sympathisers of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) or local extremist groups such as the East Indonesia Mujahidin (MIT), BNPT researcher Sidratahta Mukhtar was reported as saying by Tempo news yesterday. Some 1,000 may have indicated that they are affiliated with ISIS, he added.

    Mr Sidratahta said that based on the agency's estimates, there are 10 to 12 terror networks developing in Indonesia.

    However, there are more smaller cells, including "groups that consist of only six people", spread across Indonesia, including remote areas.

    The MIT, led by Indonesia's most-wanted terrorist Santoso, has made its base in Poso, Central Sulawesi.

    An emerging group, purportedly directed by Indonesian ISIS loyalist Bahrun Naim and strongly suspected to be behind the attack in downtown Jakarta last Thursday, has cells in places like Java, Bima in West Nusa Tenggara province, Aceh and other regions.

    The number of ISIS loyalists in Indonesia is rising, added Mr Sidratahta. In 2014, there were only 60 ISIS members, but by the end of last year, the number had swelled to about 1,000.

    Meanwhile, National Police Chief Badrodin Haiti has given Bali the all-clear following threats, purportedly from militants linked to the group that laid siege to Central Jakarta last Thursday, to carry out similar attacks on the resort island.

    "We have investigated and everything turns out to be untrue," he said on Wednesday.

    Francis Chan

Another militant was killed when the homemade bomb he was carrying went off outside a police post nearby - killing two bystanders as well. Investigators are still trying to determine if that was also a suicide attack. An off-duty cop gunned down one of the remaining terrorists as he was trying to set off a bomb, while the fourth died when a bomb he was carrying exploded, possibly prematurely.

At least 13 suspects were rounded up by the Indonesian National Police's counter-terrorism unit, Detachment 88, within days. Six are confirmed to have had direct knowledge of the siege beforehand.

Mr Luhut praised the security forces for their swift, professional handling of the crisis and vowed that they will continue to do whatever it takes to improve on responding to such attacks. "We are working very hard on the ground mapping out terrorists' activities so that we can be successful in containing them," he said.

"However, like in the United States or everywhere else, no one can guarantee that they will be immune from any threats. But I can assure you that we can respond decisively and very quickly if (another attack) happens in Indonesia."

Mr Luhut is a former army general in the Komando Pasukan Khusus, Indonesia's special forces. He is also the founding commander of Detasemen 81, the country's first counter-terrorism unit.

He has since traded his guns for politics and is now involved at the highest level in President Joko Widodo's government and deals with key issues such as last year's transboundary haze crisis and the emerging threat from extremists.

Following the attack on Jakarta, Mr Joko has been under pressure to beef up Indonesia's anti-terror laws. Earlier this week, his government and the legislature agreed to draw up new legal guidelines to strengthen the country's counter- terrorism efforts.

These include granting the National Intelligence Agency the authority to make arrests and allowing the national police to temporarily detain suspects for preventive and investigative purposes. Current laws allow the police to hold terror suspects for seven days.

Mr Luhut said the first revision will allow security agencies to arrest "potential terrorists" and detain them for a longer time as a pre- emptive action. The second bans Indonesians who become foreign fighters from returning home.

Mr Atmadji Sumarkidjo, a senior aide to Mr Luhut at Kemenkopolhukam, explained that the country's citizenship laws today stipulate that any Indonesian who joins a foreign country's military will lose his citizenship. But officials have been debating whether the law applies to ISIS, which has a military and controls territory in Syria and Iraq but is not internationally recognised as a country.

The third revision facilitates the prosecution of citizens with links to ISIS or other terror groups.

"We want to strengthen the powers of the police and other security agencies so they can pre-empt terror activities here," said Mr Luhut.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 22, 2016, with the headline Indonesians who join ISIS risk losing citizenship. Subscribe