Abu Bakar Bashir
The sun was bright, the sky a flawless blue — a perfect day for a graduation. In a mountain clearing in the southern Philippines four years ago, 17 young Indonesians snapped to attention in their camouflage fatigues, two instructors recalled. They marched in formation. They assembled a low-explosive bomb and detonated it. They crawled on the ground with AK-47s.
“Allahu Akbar!” the audience cheered: “God is greatest.”
The men were the first graduates of the military academy established by Jemaah Islamiah, a Southeast Asian militant network allied with al Qaeda. That day in April 2000, as described by two men who were there, was a high point in the life of the organization.
During the next two years, hard-liners in Jemaah Islamiah gained influence. The group’s biggest attacks were the October 2002 bombings of two Bali nightclubs and the August 2003 bombing of the JW Marriott Hotel in Jakarta, which together killed 214 people. At least one of the 17 graduates was arrested last year for hiding a Bali bomber, said Muhaimin, 42, one of the instructors in the Philippines and now an imam at a Jakarta mosque. Like many Indonesians, he uses only one name.
The death toll from the March 11 bombings in Madrid is listed at 190, slightly less than Bali, and a group saying it represents al Qaeda has asserted responsibility. A similar claim was made after the Bali bombings.
Although al Qaeda provided financing for the Bali attacks, Jemaah Islamiah operates largely independently, analysts and police say. Indonesian, Malaysian and Singaporean members, who met and were molded in Islamic boarding schools and training camps in Afghanistan and the Philippines, share al Qaeda’s ideology but do not need an order from Osama bin Laden to act, according to police and former members such as Muhaimin.
More than 240 of Jemaah Islamiah’s members have been arrested since the Bali and Jakarta attacks, including many of its leaders. But interviews with captured members, former members and relatives portray a network that continues to defy police efforts to quash it, exploiting school, family and religious connections to stay alive.
“At the same time that the police arrest them, they always find someone to replace them,” Mohammad Nasir bin Abbas, 34, a former instructor at the camp, said in an interview. “Even if the entire Jemaah Islamiah membership is wiped out, other groups will arise and do the same thing.”
Jemaah Islamiah plans to close its training camp in the Philippines, according to Indonesian police, as its main ally there, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, conducts peace talks with the Philippine government. But the network is reportedly seeking to relocate the camp in Indonesia, a handful of leaders are still at large, and analysts and police warn of the possibility of another attack.
Six Indonesian terrorism suspects were recently arrested trying to enter Malaysia from the Philippines. Meanwhile, Abubakar Baasyir, 65, a cleric considered the network’s leader, could be released from prison as early as next month. Baasyir was arrested and jailed in October 2002 on charges of immigration offenses and forgery, but not for involvement in the Bali bombings. The Indonesian Supreme Court recently reduced his sentence. The instructors recalled him watching proudly at the Jemaah Islamiah graduation ceremony in 2000.
“This organization is still dangerous as hell,” said an Indonesian police official who spoke on condition of anonymity. “They keep regenerating. They can change the name of the group. They can use new faces. They change strategy.”
Until his arrest last December, Muhammad Saifudin, an Indonesian, was being groomed as part of Jemaah Islamiah’s next generation of leaders. In an interview in his jail cell in Jakarta in the presence of his attorney, Saifudin said he was recruited as a religious teacher, or ulema, for the terrorist network by the principal of a conservative Islamic boarding school in Solo, in central Java.
As Saifudin explained it, Jemaah Islamiah needed not only fighters, but teachers who could furnish a religious justification for the jihad, or holy war. But even teachers needed hands-on experience, he said. So he was sent to the Philippines to learn to fight.
“I wanted to contribute something to this Islamic movement,” Saifudin said. “Besides, I was the best student in my class, and my teacher saw this potential.”
In 1999 after he graduated from the Islamic boarding school, he took one of Jemaah Islamiah’s short courses at its camp in the Philippines. In four months, he said, he learned everything from mapmaking to bomb assembly.
In 2001, he trained in Afghanistan, at Camp al Farouq in Kandahar, which housed 300 fighters from Saudi Arabia, he said.
Also at the camp was Hambali, whose real name is Nurjaman Riduan Isamuddin and who was Jemaah Islamiah’s most important strategist until his capture last August. In October 2001, when the United States invaded Afghanistan in retaliation for the Sept. 11 attacks, Saifudin said, he shouldered a Stinger missile and tried to shoot down U.S. jets, but the planes flew too high and the Stingers were outdated.
Saifudin, who said he met bin Laden four times at the camp, said the al Qaeda leader showed the recruits videos of Palestinian civilians dying after being attacked by Israelis. “Osama was crying and said, ‘These people are my brothers in Islam. They ask for my help and your help,’ ” he recalled.
In late 2001, Saifudin went to Karachi, a city in southern Pakistan. There he joined a group called al Ghuraba, Arabic for “the foreigners.” The group was formed on Hambali’s orders, Singaporean authorities said. Many of its members were sons or brothers of Jemaah Islamiah militants. The group itself was set up by Abdul Rahim, Baasyir’s son. Hambali’s brother handled the finances, Abdul Rahim said in an interview at his father’s home in Solo.
Abdul Rahim, who lives freely in Solo where his father co-founded an Islamic boarding school, said al Ghuraba was formed purely for religious study and discussion. Saifudin said senior Jemaah Islamiah members “saw the urgency of regeneration in the movement” and sent their sons and their students to Pakistan to study to become ulemas.
But Singapore, which has arrested two of the group’s members, has characterized it as a cell designed to groom future leaders. And a senior Indonesian security official said the students served as liaisons between Hambali and al Qaeda, in some cases transferring money. An Indonesian police official said they helped Hambali in terrorist activities, which he did not specify.
Eleven young al Ghuraba members are now in jail in three countries. Their backgrounds reflect the movement’s family ties: The two members arrested in Singapore are the sons of members of Jemaah Islamiah and Moro, respectively. In Malaysia, five students have been detained, three of whose fathers are with Jemaah Islamiah. In Indonesia, Saifudin and Hambali’s brother are among four members arrested.
With the 11 arrests, al Ghuraba has been effectively dismantled, authorities say.
But police and analysts such as Sydney Jones, director of the International Crisis Group’s Indonesia program, point to the emergence of other groups as evidence that the militant movement will be difficult to break up.
A group called Mujaheddin Kompak formed in 1999 in response to what it saw as the slower, more bureaucratic Jemaah Islamiah, from which it drew some of its leaders, Jones wrote in a new ICG report.
Jemaah Islamiah, meanwhile, continues to draw strength from family ties, with women playing a largely unseen role.
In a modest cinderblock house in East Java, Faridah binti Abbas, sister of Mohammad Nasir bin Abbas, the former camp instructor, is raising six young children alone. The youngest, Usama, was born after her husband, Ali Ghufron, also known as Mukhlas, Jemaah Islamiah’s alleged operations chief, was sent to prison for helping plot the Bali bombings. There, Mukhlas has told police he was gratified that Bali “claimed many lives from American allies, including Australians” and has written by hand manuscripts with titles such as “How to Educate Your Wife” and “The Bali Bomb Jihad.”
Yet Faridah, whose marriage was arranged by her father, shows no sign of weariness or fear that his death sentence could leave her a widow. She wears a black chador, the traditional garment that covers all but the eyes and is worn when a woman is outside the house.
She became passionate when asked about jihad and the targeting of civilians. “Bali killed only 200 people,” she said. “How about those killed in Kashmir? In Iraq? In Palestine? In Chechnya? In Afghanistan?” Why don’t we call those who attacked them terrorists? she asked.
These days, Mohammad Nasir bin Abbas is torn by conflicting emotions. On the one hand, he still reveres the organization’s founder, Abdullah Sungkar — the “old man,” he calls him — who died in late 1999 of a heart attack. On the other, he is disgusted, he says, by the group’s shift since 2000 toward civilian violence. He said a majority of the group disagrees with that tactic, an assertion backed by Saifudin.
Nasir said he believes that the use of arms is justified only against another army or militia in defense of Muslims under attack.
Persuading his fellow militants to end their targeting of civilians is difficult, he said. “It’s about ideology,” he said. “They believe what they’re doing is true. That it comes from God.”