The Solution to Deradicalize Convicted Terrorists In Indonesia Is a Cliché

Education is still the answer, according to a new study.
Convicted terrorist Umat Patek after a court hearing in West Jakarta. Photo by Supri/Reuters.

One of Indonesia’s most active extremist organizations Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD) is most likely plotting another attack. That’s what the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC) believes, even though 29 prominent members of ISIS-linked JAD are currently behind bars, while eight others are dead. The heart of the problem, IPAC says, is that the JAD extremists are still able to communicate with other militants from their cells in the Kelapa Dua prison in Depok.


They carried out their biggest attack yet last May, where a homemade bomb went off at a bus terminal in Kampung Melayu, East Jakarta. Five people, including three police officers, were killed. Now, though its most notable members are locked up, they could be stronger than ever, rendering the Indonesian government’s “deradicalization” program useless, according to a new study by IPAC.

“We might be able to persuade some senior figures to invite other members to leave the world of violence, but not if they are still being put in the same cell as other ISIS sympathizers for a long period of time,” wrote Sidney Jones, the director of IPAC. “JAD requires extra attention.”

Jones wasn't exaggerating. The group is an offshoot of Negara Islam Indonesia (NII), a group that wants to make Indonesia an Islamic state. Although it does not have strong military resources like ISIS for example, it's still able to spread terror in different parts of the country. Its members are spread all over Indonesia.

JAD was formed shortly after ISIS declared their wish to build a caliphate in Syria and Iraq in June 2014. Not satisfied by NII’s ideologies, and motivated by the preaching of a hardliner ustaz Aman Abdurrahman, some NII members vouched to support ISIS and commit jihad. Initially, those who transformed into JAD members were supposed to go to Syria, but decided against it when in 2016, ISIS spokesperson Abu Muhammad Al Adnani encouraged the group’s sympathizers to commit jihad in their own country.


Since then, more acts of terrorism happened across Indonesia, including a Molotov cocktail attack in Samarinda) and two attacks in Bandung. Those attacks were relatively small-scale, but they are the start of something bigger, potentially.

Now many of JAD remaining members and sympathizers are still active in smaller groups, waiting for the right moment and instruction to make the next move, according to IPAC.

“JAD is Indonesia’s biggest ISIS supporter group,” IPAC wrote in their report. “Its members are followers of Aman Abdurrahman and Abu Bakar Baasyir who previously were with Jamaah Ansharut Tauhid (JAT).”

The question here is not only how to handle the 29 convicted terrorists in and outside of prison, but also how to combat JAD extremism in the country.

Data owned by IPAC shows that many JAD members had roots in the Darul Islam/NII movement, which had been active since 1950s before getting shut down by the New Order government. Their existence is illegal, but NII still secretly operate, in smaller scales. They no longer push for the adoption of Sharia law in Indonesia. Instead, they apply the law in their own community.

The same report also found that NII, which rejects all systems enforced by the government, has their own education system, health facilities, and economic resources to spread their ideologies far and wide. In West Java, NII built many Islamic boarding schools and educational facilities from kindergartens to high schools. One of them is Yayasan Zakaria in Bandung, that has been actively recruiting its lecturers from the prestigious Institute of Technology Bandung and University of Education Indonesia in Bandung since the 1990s.


NII is believed to be active in some areas of West Java, Banten, Sulawesi and Sumatra. They have regional commands in several different areas that are connected to one another. Each regional command has its own educational system led by an amir, the Arabic word for leader.

IPAC argued that NII's model of building their own ecosystem through education and health facilities to spread their ideology and gain support of followers, can also be used for deradicalization programs in areas susceptible to religious extremism such as Central Java, West Nusa Tenggara, and Central Sulawesi.

"It's a strategy that can be applied to a community with a history with extremism by focusing on providing social services, lead by a religious leader who rejects the use of violence," IPAC wrote.

Besides using a strategy of social and economic empowerment, IPAC argued that deradicalization efforts can also be done by religious leaders preaching more moderate Islam teachings. “Militant ustaz can recruit many people to become extremists, so we can reverse the effect by using moderate ustaz,” IPAC wrote in their report.

A success example of deradicalization is Al Hidayah, an Islamic boarding school in Deli Serdang, North Sumatra, that is re-teaching Islam to the children of convicted terrorists. So far, the school has accommodated 20 students. However, this strategy is still very uncommon in Indonesia. But if the government starts to focus on the prevention of extremist ideologies, then maybe this country has a chance on combating them once and for all.

Taufik Andrie, a terrorism expert from Yayasan Prasasti Perdamaian, said that the success of our current deradicalization program is hard to measure. He said, however, that former convicted terrorists need to be educated and supported after they finish their sentence. At the very least, the government needs to help them find a job so they are less likely to fall back to extremism.

“We call it 'disengagement,'” Taufik told VICE Indonesia. “So far, deradicalization has been mostly rejected by convicted terrorists. Through disengagement, we can open a room for social interaction so former criminals can feel accepted and receive help to be financially independent later.”