JAKARTA - Two Indonesian women - Dian Yulia Novi and Ika Puspitasari - were arrested last December, after police foiled a plot to bomb the Istana Merdeka presidential palace in Jakarta.
Both had worked as domestic helpers overseas - Dian in Singapore and Taiwan, and Ika in Hong Kong. Ika was supposed to have mounted a suicide bombing in Bali on New Year's Eve.
The arrest of the two former migrant workers for attempted suicide-bombings underscores the vulnerability of such women to the extremist recruitment, said the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (Ipac) in a new study released on Wednesday (July 26).
According to researchers from the Jakarta-based think-tank, several dozens of Indonesian maids working in East Asia have become involved in a variety of pro-ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) activities from providing money for tickets to Syria to marrying fighters online. These female radicals were identified through social media, official reports and direct interviews.
Ipac researchers said a tiny extremist cell of about 45 such workers has developed within the more than 153,000-strong Indonesian community in Hong Kong. Of these women, 43 have worked or are currently working in Hong Kong, three in Taiwan and four in Singapore.
It said that in June 2017, four women had joined the ISIS; around 16 had returned to Indonesia and mostly married militants; and eight were deported from their host countries or from Turkey while trying to cross over to Syria.
These women mostly have experienced a life-changing transformation in Hong Kong, typically after getting fired by employers, getting into complicated love affairs or having family-related problems that prompted them to turn to religion, but were drawn into radical online forums or even attending radical lectures.
"None were ever interested in supporting attacks in their host countries. They rather wanted to support anti-Assad fight in Syria or pro-ISIS violence at home," the report said.
Ipac analyst Nava Nuraniyah said the Indonesian government must work with overseas labour recruiting agencies and civil society organisations to ensure that migrant workers, particularly women, are not drawn into extremist cells.
The Indonesian dakwah (religious outreach) groups in Hong Kong can be used as a preventive measure, as members of each group may be the first to know if a friend is getting drawn into extremist group, the report said, adding that there should be a secure and confidential reporting channel to the consulate, which must have trained counsellors.
"In the end, the best partner for the Indonesian and Hong Kong governments in preventing radicalisation of migrant workers is the broader Muslim community itself," said Ms Nava.