Indonesia's released militants feared to join ISIS forces

In this file photograph taken on June 9, 2013, masked Indonesian Islamic militants waving the flag of ISIS stage a rally against Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in Solo, central Java island, where they declared their preparedness to join the war in
In this file photograph taken on June 9, 2013, masked Indonesian Islamic militants waving the flag of ISIS stage a rally against Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in Solo, central Java island, where they declared their preparedness to join the war in Syria against Bashar al-Assad's regime. Complacency about deradicalisation is a recipe for disaster, analysts warned recently, as support for ISIS and other militant groups spreads in Indonesia, coinciding with the release of some 200 convicted militants from prison over the next two years. -- PHOTO: AFP 

JAKARTA (AFP) - The looming release of hundreds of militants from Indonesia's prisons, hotbeds of radicalism where influential Islamists openly preach extremist ideology, is ringing alarm bells and raising fears some will join forces with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

More than a decade after Indonesia vowed to dismantle terrorist networks to stem a series of attacks, neglect of jails has allowed top detainees to promote their views behind bars, and even beyond thanks to smartphones and laptops.

About 200 convicted militants are due for release in the next two years, and experts say inadequate deradicalisation efforts mean many will leave jail with their ideology intact.

"Prisons are still the epicentre of terrorism in Indonesia. The most dangerous militants are behind bars and recruitment is going on," said terrorism expert Taufik Andrie from the Jakarta-based Institute for International Peace Building.

The alarming trend in the world's most populous Muslim-majority country comes despite authorities' growing concern about Islamic militancy and in particular ISIS, which has declared an "Islamic caliphate" across swathes of Syria and Iraq.

Authorities say about 60 Indonesians are believed to have joined ISIS, although most analysts believe the true figure is up to 200, and concerns are mounting that they could return and revive sophisticated militant networks.

Singapore has said that ISIS extremists from Malaysia and Indonesia have formed their own group - Katibah Nusantara Lid Daulah Islamiyyah, or Malay Archipelago Unit for the Islamic State - which poses a clear security threat to Southeast Asia.

Indonesia began a long clampdown on extremists following the 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202 people on the resort island, mostly foreigners. That attack and others were blamed on the Al-Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), which has since been severely weakened.

The government has banned support for ISIS, while other nations, including Britain and Australia, have tightened counter-terrorism laws to prevent nationals joining or supporting the and other jihadist outfits.

But experts say such efforts in Indonesia are being undermined by a failure to tackle the prisons problem.

Abu Bakar Bashir, the former spiritual leader of JI, was photographed pledging allegiance to IS in jail. The photos were posted on radical websites almost in real-time.

Aman Abdurrahman, an influential Islamist cleric, is Indonesia's main translator for ISIS and has been able to disseminate information online from inside a maximum-security prison, including the group's recent call on Muslims to kill Westerners indiscriminately.

Their oaths were followed by a wave of ISIS pledges by large radical groups, as well as by 23 inmates imprisoned with Bashir, according to Jakarta-based think-tank, the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC).

The government's deradicalisation schemes remain so ad-hoc and poorly targeted that they barely make up a programme at all, critics say.

Irfan Idrus, head of deradicalisation at the national counter-terrorism agency, admitted there was no system in place to identify those who have developed extremist views and need post-release monitoring.

When Haris Amir Falah was freed after serving three years for terrorism offences, he went straight back to his Bashir-led extremist group.

Falah was convicted of funding a militant training camp that was planning gun attacks on "enemies of Islam", including the president.

Before that he had fought with JI in parts of Indonesia during bouts of religious conflict, a source with knowledge of his case told AFP. Falah claims he went to give aid.

Just three deradicalisation sessions were held during his time in prison, involving dialogue with moderate Islamic clerics.

"It was interesting enough, but it didn't change anything about the way I think," he said.

Falah is now a senior figure of another offshoot group, and says that while ISIS is "too extreme" he supports jihad in Syria and backs the Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Nusra Front.

"There have not been useful programmes on a national scale inside the prisons that you can point to clear impact," said IPAC director Sidney Jones, adding that Indonesia's deradicalisation drive was "vague" and a "bit of a mess".

She pointed to a programme to educate convicted terrorists about the "Pancasila" - Indonesia's five-point state ideology that celebrates "unity in diversity" - to inculcate a sense of nationalism in them.

"But it wasn't as if these prisoners didn't feel Indonesian, so it was the wrong solution to the problem. A lot of these programmes have been equally misguided."