US puts Indonesian militant group and militants on terrorist watchlist

Indonesian police conduct a security preparation at the Jakarta Cathedral on Dec 24, 2016.
Indonesian police conduct a security preparation at the Jakarta Cathedral on Dec 24, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

JAKARTA - The Jemaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD) terrorist group in Indonesia and two of the country's more prominent militants have been placed on a US counter-terrorism watchlist, due to their ties to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

The move, which opens the way for US law enforcement action against them, comes amid the growing threat of ISIS in South-east Asia, as the militant group continues to lose ground in the Middle East to coalition forces.

The US Department of State, in a statement issued on Tuesday (Jan 10), said the JAD, which was behind the brazen terror attack in downtown Jakarta in January 2016, has been marked as "Specially Designated Global Terrorist".

"JAD is a terrorist group based in Indonesia that was formed in 2015 and is composed of almost two dozen Indonesian extremist groups that pledged allegiance to ISIL leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi," said the State Department, referring to ISIS by its other name, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

The US Treasury Department also announced on the same day that Indonesians Aman Abdurrahman and Bahrumsyah have been added to its "Specially Designated Nationals" (SDN) list. Both Indonesians have pledged their allegiance to ISIS.

The US move means that their assets are blocked, and American companies and individuals are prohibited from having dealings with them.

Aman, who is said to have ordered the Jan 14, 2016, attack in Jakarta which killed eight people, including the four perpetrators. He is a cleric who is now serving time in an Indonesian prison and purportedly leader of the JAD, an offshoot of the old Jemaah Islamiah (JI) terror network.

Bahrumsyah is now in Syria where he was appointed by al-Baghdadi to lead a battalion of foreign fighters from South-east Asia who joined the group in the Middle East.

Other Indonesian militants that have been sanctioned by the United States and placed on the terrorist watchlist include former Al-Qaeda leader Hambali, who has been held at Guantanamo Bay for the past 10 years, JI leader Abu Bakar Bashir, as well as the Mujaheedin Indonesia Timur's (MIT) Santoso.

Santoso, who was once the country's most wanted terrorist, was shot dead by Indonesian security forces in Poso, Central Sulawesi, last year after an extended manhunt for the MIT.

The Indonesian police's primary counter-terrorism force, the Detachment 88 (Densus 88), has been largely effective, thwarting as many as 15 terror plots, including one against Singapore, in recent years.

Densus 88 has also arrested more than 150 suspects and uncovered new tactics such as the use of women as suicide bombers by local terrorist cells last year.

But the authorities are still unable to prosecute more than 50 Indonesians who have returned home after joining ISIS in the Middle East because of weak anti-terror laws in the country.

The Indonesian parliament is set to continue its deliberation on proposed revisions to grant the police more powers to detain terror suspects, particularly ISIS returnees, for investigation.

Meanwhile, the country remains on high alert as it approaches the first anniversary of the Jan 14 attack in Jakarta this Saturday.

Besides Aman and Bahrumsyah, the US Treasury Department has also placed Australian ISIS fighters, Khaled Sharrouf and Neil Prakash, as well as British national Alexanda Amon Kotey on the SDN list.

Prakash is one of Australia's most wanted terrorists, and a skilled online recruiter for ISIS, while Kotey is one of four members of an ISIS cell named "the Beatles". A Guardian report said the cell is behind the beheadings of about two dozen hostages.