The twin suicide bomb attack that left three police officers dead and dozens of others injured in Kampung Melayu, East Jakarta, last week carried all the hallmarks of a new breed of terrorist network taking root in Indonesia. These emerging organizations are linked not by training camps or rigid structures, but by ideologies and secure messaging apps. Their members carry out lone wolf attacks on soft targets and, frequently, local police. And they're so loosely connected that some experts wonder if we can even call these terrorist groups "organizations" at all.
Indonesia's anti-terrorism squad Densus 88 says that Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD) was behind the suicide attacks. But who are JAD? This ISIS-linked group emerged on the scene only a few years ago, appearing in a warning by the state's intelligence agency BIN in March of 2015 of a new terrorist threat in Indonesia. By November of 2015, ISIS sympathizers in Indonesia held a conference) in Malang, East Java. Little else is publicly known about the group. Regardless, the recent attacks in East Jakarta show that they are now a serious threat, said one expert.
"We can no longer underestimate JAD," Al Chaidar, an Indonesian terrorism expert, told VICE Indonesia. "They have a wide network that stretches all the way to the Philippines for weaponry. They have thousands of members located across 18 provinces."
But others aren't so sure JAD is an organization in the traditional sense at all. The Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC) said that Jamaah Ansharut Daulah was little more than an umbrella term for ISIS sympathizers in a report published in 2016 on the threat decentralized ISIS supporters posed for Indonesia.
"Indonesian intelligence sources claimed in mid-March 2015 that all ISIS groups were now part of a new organization, Partisans of the State Group (Jamaah Ansharud Daulah, JAD) but there was never any evidence of such a structure," the report read. "'Jamaah Ansharud Daulah' was in fact a generic term used for any supporter of ISIS—it did not signify a new organization."
Others who were present at the March 2015 meeting where radicals declared their allegiance to ISIS also denied the existence of any formal structure or organization.
"The term 'Anshar Daulah' is Arabic for dualah [Islamic state] supporter, but no structured organization has been formed," Nanang Ainur Rafiq, the caretaker of the terrorist splinter cell Jemaah Ansharut Tauhid (JAT), told local media. "Jamaah Anshar Daulah is a term created by the media and the police."
But the domestic media had already laid out a pretty detailed history of JAD. Local media says JAD is led by Aman Abdurrahman, a radical jihadi who is currently serving a nine-year sentence for running a terrorist training camp.
Aman was never actually involved in any armed conflict himself. He was instead a lecturer at Jakarta's Islamic and Arabic College of Indonesia (LIPIA) back in the 90s. But he is still seen as an important figure in radical Islamist circles because of his efforts to promote takfiri—or the belief that Muslims who don't share radical views are the same as kafir—in Indonesia. That ideology is central to the beliefs of ISIS and was originally popularized by its precursor Al Qaeda in Iraq.
Before his arrest, Aman had amassed thousands of followers by delivering sermons at mosques across Indonesia. Not long after his arrest, Aman and Abu Bakar Basyir pledge their allegiance to ISIS from within Indonesia's high-security island prison Nusa Kambangan.
But today, Aman's role in whatever JAD actually is might not be as central to the plot. The bombs used in the East Jakarta attack were likely made from instructions shared online. And the presence of secure messaging apps like Telegram make it possible for jihadis to disseminate ideas and plans across national borders, or inside Indonesia without ever meeting face-to-face.
"Virtual interactions among jihadists do happen," terrorism expert Ridlwan Habibi told VICE Indonesia. "They may not even know one another, but an attack may inspire other militants to do the same."
It's a difficult thing to combat. And conflicting information about whether JAD are a formal terrorist organization has left many here confused. One expert urged the police to conduct a more thorough investigation of the group to determine if they do indeed pose a real threat.
"There's indication that the act was performed by a JAD member," said Herdin Sahrasad, an expert in Islam at Paramidana University. "If the police conduct an investigation and are certain about their findings, then let's blow the organization wide open. The police have to be transparent about this."