Military set to play larger role in Jakarta's anti-terror fight

The Indonesian military (TNI) is close to being granted its wish to play a wider role in counterterrorism, according to lawmakers reviewing proposed amendments to Indonesia's anti-terror laws.

These include allowing the TNI to act on terror threats against foreign embassies and missions, special economic zones, commercial vessels and aircraft, as well as militant cells hiding out in jungles or mountainous areas in the homeland.

"These TNI clauses have been decided and most of us support them because we understand there is a need," said Mr Akbar Faizal, a member of the special parliamentary committee deliberating revisions to the Anti-Terrorism Bill.

The inclusion of the TNI in counterterrorism operations is meant to beef up Indonesia's capabilities in the area currently led by Detachment 88 (Densus 88), an elite anti-terror police unit.

While Densus 88 has played a largely effective role, thwarting as many as 15 terror plots last year, including one against Singapore, the support of the TNI has also contributed to its success.

For instance, the successful manhunt by the police in Poso, Central Sulawesi, for East Indonesia Mujahideen leader Santoso was largely attributed to TNI troops deployed to support the operation.

The chairman of the deliberation committee, Mr Muhammad Syafi'i, confirmed last week proposals to increase the military's role in the revision of the Bill, but added there are guidelines to limit its involvement.

"Not every situation would require military involvement. For instance, the military could conduct raids on terrorists, but it will have to immediately hand over the suspects to law enforcement agencies for investigation and prosecution," he told The Straits Times.

Mr Syafi'i said under the amendments, the power to activate the TNI for such operations at home will lie with the National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT).

The new law will also see the BNPT become the coordinating agency in the fight against terror, as well as efforts to prevent it, by working with various ministries and government bodies, he added.

The committee had hoped to ratify the Bill by the end of April, but Mr Akbar said it may be delayed as certain issues need to be ironed out. He declined to elaborate, but some observers say allowing the TNI to expand its influence beyond its role in national defence will place the military in its strongest position since the New Order of former president Suharto.

Human rights groups also fear it may reverse the democratisation process in one of the world's largest democracies.

To reassure critics, Mr Akbar said Indonesia has "unique characteristics and we want a carefully and intelligently worded law that can accommodate such challenges".

The Bill was first enacted the year after the 2002 Bali bombing, which killed more than 200 people.

Last year, the government proposed several changes, mainly to expand police powers in counterterrorism, after a brazen attack by four Indonesian militants loyal to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria on Jakarta in January that year.

Mr Syafi'i said part of the amendments to the Bill would require the government to set aside funds to care for victims of terrorism, including covering the cost of their medical treatment.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 27, 2017, with the headline 'Military set to play larger role in Jakarta's anti-terror fight'. Print Edition | Subscribe