Arrest of JI leader in Indonesia may signify resurgence in terrorist acts

Abu Bakar Bashir, an Indonesian ulama, had co-founded JI in 1993 as an off-shoot of al-Qaeda. (Reuters screengrab)

PETALING JAYA: A resurgent Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) in Indonesia has raised concerns it may revive long-dismantled cells in Malaysia and Singapore, the South China Morning Post reported today.

It said at its height in mid-2001, JI was active in five countries – Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines and Australia – grouped under regional divisions named as “Mantiqis”.

The Malaysia-based Mantiqi I (regional division 1) was the most important for JI’s international connections, linking the Indonesian group with al-Qaeda, according to the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (Ipac).

The report quotes Ayob Khan Mydin Pitchay, head of the police Special Branch counter-terrorism division, as saying Malaysia destroyed JI activities at the end of 2001.

“However, JI is expected to become active again … especially if Abu Bakar Bashir is released from prison,” he said.

Bakar, an Indonesian ulama, co-founded JI in 1993 with the late Abdullah Sungkar. JI is the Southeast Asian offshoot of the international terror network al-Qaeda.

Bakar is currently serving a 15-year jail sentence for helping to fund a paramilitary training camp in Aceh, the report said.

The report quoted Ayob as saying there was no indication to show that JI is planning any attacks in Malaysia or that JI Indonesia is recruiting Malaysians.

Noor Huda Ismail, visiting fellow at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, told the daily that JI may be defunct as an organisation but its ideology still finds support among some sympathisers.

He, however, warned that a resurgent JI in Indonesia could revive JI Singapore.

The SCMP report said a disturbing finding by Indonesia was that past JI investments in oil palm plantations and other interests were paying off and making the organisation self-funding, instead of depending on armed robberies or donations to finance its activities.

JI is also getting funds by running 60 schools, recruiting potential leaders, from them, and is known to operate a cattle farm.

These activities allowed JI to pay its top officers a monthly salary of 10-15 million rupiah (RM2,940 to RM4,400), according to police.

The report said for the past five years, little was heard of JI. While JI was responsible for the 2002 Bali bombing that took 202 lives, the group kept a low profile as police focused on countering threats from militants linked to Islamic State.

However, last Monday, Indonesian police announced the capture of JI’s leader Para Wijayanto, 54, the “crown prince of JI”, who had been on the run since 2003. His wife and three of his associates were also arrested.

SCMP said Para’s arrest revealed a resurgent JI, actively recruiting members and building up a clandestine paramilitary wing.

The report quoted another terrorism researcher, Mohamad Adhe Bhakti, as saying JI had established military wings, known as Asykari, in all provinces in Java and in Lampung province, Sumatera.

“There are 10-20 Asykari personnel in every province,” he said.

Under Para’s leadership, JI was reported to have sent men for training in Syria from 2013-2018, according to Indonesian police spokesman Dedi Prasetyo.

However, JI is strongly opposed to the extreme methods employed by IS.