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Indonesia: Terror Threat Rising - particularly for Java, Poso (in Central Sulawesi) and Indonesia's Chinese community


Date:  May 20, 2020

By Elizabeth Kendal

Unlike al-Qaeda - which peddles a narrative of victimhood - Islamic State peddles a positive and apocalyptic narrative: the End Times are upon us so reach out and grasp the success that Allah has promised! Through its weekly newsletter, Al-Naba (The Dispatch), Islamic State (IS) has been exhorting its supporters to see the COVID-19 as Allah's vengeance on Islam's enemies, in particular China (which persecutes Uyghur Muslims), Shi'ite Iran, the 'crusader' West and Russia. Consequently, IS is exhorting its fighters to exploit this opportunity Allah has afforded them and attack infidels and apostates in their moment of crisis. Despite being decimated and in disarray, IS- affiliated (or even just inspired) jihadists have responded to the call and escalated their terrorism, primarily in Iraq where the group was born and is resurgent.  

In Indonesia, IS-aligned jihadist groups - Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD) and Mujahidin Indonesia Timur (MIT) - have escalated their terrorist rhetoric and activity. It is true that these groups are small; indeed, one researcher recently described the Central Sulwesi's Poso-based MIT as 'a small but stubbornly resistant group of ragtag terrorists ... hiding out in the hills'. It is also true that Indonesia's counter-terrorism force, Densus 88, has been very effective in keeping these groups contained. However, even one 'ragtag terrorist' can do incredible damage if he manages to slip through the net. On Sunday 13 May 2018 one family belonging to JAD bombed three churches in Surabaya, East Java, killing 13 and wounding 43.

On 8 April 2020 Central Sulawesi's Poso-based MIT jihadists abducted Daeng Topo from his farm in Central Sulawesi. They later released an IS-inspired video in which Topo was condemned as a police informant and beheaded. On 15 April two MIT jihadists - one bearing a decrepit firearm - attacked a police officer outside a bank in Poso attempting to seize his service weapon. A scuffle ensued and the police officer was shot in the chest (non-fatally), after which police chased down and killed the two jihadists. On 19 April MIT released another IS-inspired video, in which local farmer Ambo Ajeng, known affectionately as Papa Angga, is accused of being a police informant and shot through the head at point blank range. The funeral for the two MIT jihadists killed on 15 April was live-streamed on Facebook. Researchers at Melbourne University report that the footage reveals 'a surprisingly deep reservoir of local support for MIT'. Hundreds of MIT supporters, young and old, lined the streets, chanting IS slogans, waving black IS flags and saluting the dead MIT jihadists as heroes. The footage has reportedly 'energised' IS supporters across the archipelago. Around 20 percent of Central Sulawesi residents are Christian; most are Protestant and live in the Poso Regency, which is around 56 percent Christian. 

Bigger and more sophisticated than MIT, Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD) is an Indonesia-wide network of some two dozen Indonesian militant groups that have pledged allegiance to Islamic State. On 13 April 2020 anti-terror forces raided a house in Muna, an island in south-east Sulawesi, where five JAD terrorists were holed up. One attacked the officers and was shot dead; the remaining four, who hailed from Central Java and South Sulawesi, were arrested. Police confiscated bladed weapons, long-range firearms and bomb-making equipment. On 26 and 27 April counter-terrorism raids targeted JAD cells at each end of Java. Three JAD suspects were arrested in the raid in Sidoarjo, a suburb of Surabaya, East Java. Three more JAD suspects - one of whom is a former air force serviceman - were arrested in the raid in Serang, the capital of Banten Province, west of Jakarta. Police also netted 2,300 rounds of ammunition (of the type used in assault rifles and the service weapons used by the Indonesian military and police), along with a camouflaged sniper rifle (of the sort used by Kostrad [Army Strategic Command]) and several automatic pistols. It is reportedly 'the most Indonesian militants are known to have had in their possession in almost two decades'.

Rooted as it is in IS's COVID-19 narrative, JAD's rhetoric is profoundly anti-China. The risk is that this could translate into attacks on Chinese-owned businesses and Indonesia's Chinese community, more than 40 percent of whom are Christian. 


* intervene to sever the supply lines that enable fighters and weapons to flow between Indonesia and the southern Philippines; may any 'leakage' of weapons from Indonesia's security forces also be stopped. 'Break the arm [the mechanism of action] of the wicked and evildoer; call his wickedness to account till you find none.' (Psalm 10:15 ESV)

* facilitate the capture of Poso-based MIT terrorist leader Ali Kalora, along with anyone who is plotting evil against Indonesian civilians and particularly against the Lord's people.

* protect Indonesia's churches, Christians and Chinese community from Islamic State-inspired terrorism as Indonesia struggles to contain the COVID-19 pandemic crisis. 

* comfort and encourage the Church in Central Sulawesi, where memories of brutal Islamic jihad are still raw; may the church's message of peace and fellowship be embraced widely. 'Blessed are the peacemakers ...' (Matthew 5:9).

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