Twelve years ago, a Jakarta court banned Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) for ties to terrorism, but the organization didn’t disappear. Just last month, the Indonesian police force’s anti-terrorism Special Detachment 88 detained five JI members in Bekasi, West Java. Among them was Para Wijayanto, a JI emir or unquestioned leader, who has been a fugitive since 2003.
Wijayanto himself was involved in the deadly 2002 Bali bombings that killed 200 people, as well as several other attacks. Despite his arrest however, JI remains a significant threat not just to Indonesia, but the rest of the region. This, especially after police discovered palm oil plantations owned by the group, which they use to fund their operations. The group is said to run two palm oil farms in Sumatra and Kalimantan.
Most Indonesian terror cells fund their operations through foreign donors and donations. While JI is also supported by various educational and research institutions, palm oil farms as sources of funding is a new development.
“The palm oil farm generates income to fund their activities and their officials’ salaries and other individuals in their network,” police spokesperson Dedi Prasetyo said in a press conference. The discovery stoked fears of the group regaining its strength.
Sidney Jones, the director of the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC), said JI remains to be an extremely strong organization. While the palm oil plantations were discovered and may mitigate movements, she warned that JI’s strength lies elsewhere.
“Their legacy, family networks, and supporters, are their biggest strengths,” Jones told VICE. “They have a long-term vision unlike other terrorist groups.”
This is especially alarming because a resurgence in Indonesia could revive cells in places like Malaysia or Singapore. After the second Bali bombings in 2005, Densus 88 detained nearly all high-ranking officials in the organization, effectively weakening its networks. In 2008, the remaining officials congregated in Surabaya and selected Wijayanto as the new emir.
The organization then began formulating a new strategy, which included a shift in focus towards preaching and education instead of weapons and bombs. JI founded the Islamic Preaching Council (MDUI) in 65 cities/regencies outside Java. In 2011, JI set up its military branch that was uncovered by the police when they raided an arms factory in Trucuk, Central Java.
Despite having a military wing and allegedly thousands of members, JI has strayed from armed jihad doctrine. One source pointed out that JI is aware of how powerful the Indonesian government’s role is in combating terrorism. JI also has become more careful in their daily operations, barely using social media apps and SMS, delivering messages via courier instead.
The efforts have paid off. The heightened efforts is partly why the police took 16 years to finally arrest Wijayanto, and only successfully arrested 18 JI members between 2014 and 2017. JI isn’t affiliated with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which they call a deviant organization.