Is This the End of JAD, Indonesia's Largest ISIS-Linked Terrorist Group?

The courts recently blacklisted Jamaah Ansharut Daulah, the terrorist group behind the shockingly brutal attacks in Surabaya. But does a ban on a group with tactics like these even mean anything?

01 August 2018, 7:45am

The end is drawing closer for members of Jamaah Ansharut Daulah, a homegrown terrorist group founded by ISIS supporters that's responsible for the worst terrorist attack in nearly a decade. The group, known as JAD, has been largely dismantled in recent months by a series of raids and sweeps that rounded up nearly 200 alleged terrorists. JAD's founder Aman Abdurrahman was sentenced to death last month for his role in the Surabaya attacks. And now, this week, the South Jakarta District Court banned the entire organization outright after proving, beyond a shadow of doubt, that JAD was, indeed, a terrorist organization.

Zainal Anshori, JAD's central "emir," was in the courtroom for the trial. Zainal was already convicted of smuggling the guns from the South Philippines into Indonesia that were used in the 2016 attack outside the Sarinah shopping mall—the first ISIS-linked act of terrorism to hit Indonesia. Zainal's legal team said he accepted the sentence and wouldn't appeal.

The defense tried to paint JAD as a group of ISIS supporters, not terrorists. Attorney Asludin Hatjani told the court that JAD was founded to help raise funds and organize the logistics of getting Indonesians into the Islamic State. Acts of terrorism, even ones involving JAD members, weren't the product of the centralized group, Asludin argued.

Watch our Emmy-winning documentary about the fight to retake Marawi:

“Based on the legal facts uncovered during the trial, it’s obvious that the defendant didn’t know about— and wasn’t involved in—the acts of terrorism committed by its members,” Asludin said last week.

But that defense fell short. The courtroom was silent on Tuesday as the room waited for a panel of judges to read out the verdict, officially banning the organization responsible for more than a dozen deaths and fining them a somewhat laughable Rp 5 million ($346 USD). It brought to an end the saga of the once-mysterious terrorist group—in theory, at least.

This is the second terrorist organization officially banned by the central government—the first being Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), the group behind the Bali bombings. But what's it mean to ban an organization that, by its very nature, is secretive and hard to track?

The ban allows police to arrest anyone affiliated with the group who may still be out there walking free, explained Adhe Bakti, the director of the Radicalism and Deradicalization Research Center (PAKAR). This, combined with a new anti-terrorism law that dramatically expanded the abilities of the police to detain suspected terrorists, could be the final nail in JAD's coffin.

But JAD may prove far harder to dismantle than more traditionally structured groups like JI. JAD had a central leadership, but it also had layers of semi-autonomous cells that were able to operate independently, linked only by loose affiliations and a shared ideology. The terrorist attacks in Surabaya were the product of local JAD members, not top leadership, and jailing men like Zainal and Abdurrahman might not have the same effect as it had in the past.

"Since the very beginning, JAD supporters never really cared too much about organization, and they could operate without one too,” Adhe explained. “And there’s a chance this sentence might raise negative sentiments towards the government. The challenge here is what the government does next.”

The threat is that JAD's remaining members atomize and form smaller, harder to detect cells throughout the country. And some of those still out there might not be caught for years. So don't be surprised if the next time you read about a new homegrown terrorist organization, you see the names of some former JAD members in the mix.