“Graft thwarts effort to win over jihadists,” by Mark Forbes for the Sydney Morning Herald:
Official efforts to seduce jailed Indonesian terrorists with money and privileges are being undermined by corruption and rival efforts from new Islamic gangs.
In this battle for hearts and minds, controversial “deradicalisation” tactics behind prison walls – including senior police inviting Bali bombers to parties – have succeeded in winning over 22 convicted terrorists, according to an International Crisis Group study.
Valuable intelligence has been gathered but the study, based on intensive interviews with prisoners and officials, also exposes the program’s lack of co-ordination and shambolic, corrupt prison administrations.
Jemaah Islamiah prisoners have formed their own gangs inside several prisons, successfully recruiting inmates and even guards to their radical ideology, the study found. Prisoners have published hardline texts and held study groups and meetings via the internet and mobile phones.
The International Crisis Group’s senior adviser in Indonesia, Sidney Jones, said the innovative strategy should continue, but with clearer aims and benchmarks, along with wide-scale prison reforms.
Of the 170 Islamic terrorists in Indonesian jails, 22 were taking part in the deradicalisation program, Ms Jones said.
“Five were pretty serious terrorists, and it’s better having five out of the network than in. I think police are on to something looking at economic aid as the first step in changing attitudes, but they need to work out new strategies on how to get to those who aren’t participating, because the real hardliners are not.”
There was a danger that the program’s gains could be offset by radicals recruiting other prisoners, Ms Jones said.
A predictable problem, when one does not engage the ideology directly: There will be some who can’t be bought off.
The report states that unless prison corruption is tackled, jihadis (radical Islamists) “will be able to communicate with anyone they want and get around any regulation designed to restrict their influence over other inmates.
“Unless prisons get more and better-trained staff, they will not be able to address the problem of gangs and protection rackets among inmates that serve to strengthen jihadi solidarity.
“Cipinang, the main prison in Jakarta, is said to operate like a hotel,” the report says.
Two rival gangs controlled the prison and its rampant drug trade, and extorted other inmates. The jihadis formed the “Ustadz Gang” (the gang of Islamic scholars) for protection after JI leader Abu Bakar Bashir was released in 2006 and they rejected extortion threats.
In Bali’s Kerobokan prison, where 10 Australian drug traffickers are jailed, a similar gang culture, and Islamic stronghold, also prevails.
Before being transferred to Java, the three Bali bombers, Amrozi, Imam Samudra and Mukhlas, had a profound impact on other inmates and guards, the report reveals.
Amrozi opened a business with other prisoners selling vouchers for mobile phones, and had easy access to phones, along with a laptop provided by a guard.
“The terrorists generally had three key qualities that were attractive to ordinary criminals: access to money, from a range of sympathetic donors; an idealism that hardened criminals apparently appreciated; and a willingness to fight,” the report says.
One Kerobokan guard provided Amrozi with his laptop. Now jailed in Semarang, he is the most militant of the jail’s inmates, authorities say.
So, let’s replace the “wrong” kind of corruption with the “right” kind:
The report states that the deradicalisation program assumes that, through kindness and cash handouts “police can change the jihadi assumption that government officials are by definition thoghut (anti-Islamic), and the prisoners may begin to question other deeply-held tenets.
And how do they differentiate inmates who had a true change of heart from those who are willing to tell authorities what they want to hear in exchange for handsome incentives? And to a hardliner, it only changes a government official from being anti-Islamic and useless to anti-Islamic and temporarily useful.
“Once prisoners show a willingness to accept police assistance, they are exposed to religious arguments against some forms of jihad by scholars whose credentials within the Islamic movement are unimpeachable,” the report says. “Some have then accepted that attacks on civilians, such as the first and second Bali bombings and the Australian embassy bombing, were wrong. The economic aid, however, is ultimately more important than religious arguments in changing prisoner attitudes.”
Bottom line: Throwing money at the problem isn’t going quite according to plan, so let’s throw more money at it, and that should take care of it.