'Public involvement crucial crucial in fight against terror'

Following the second bomb attack on Bali in under three years, the government plans to amend the current antiterror law, which is considered ineffective in stamping out terrorism. Head of the antiterror desk at the Office of Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Ansja'ad Mbai shared the reasons behind the revision with The Jakarta Post's Tiarma Siboro and Dwi Atmanta.

Question: The government intends to involve the Indonesian Military more in counterterror activities. What are the obstacles?

Answer: There has been public resistance to the plan due to the traumatic experience in the past. The TNI (Indonesian Military) involvement was legitimate back in the New Order time. Now that the military is the subject of the reform movement, we need a comprehensive study before reviving the old policy.

As the head of the antiterror desk I have recommended that the TNI intelligence unit be involved in the early prevention stage. The TNI has the infrastructure, personnel and other resources, why should we not make good use of those things? The government realizes terrorists are the enemies of the nation, the state and all religions; therefore all institutions in this nation should fight them. Without the involvement of intelligence agents, we will only be able react after there are more bomb attacks, plane hijackings, mass killings or abductions.

The "war on terror" emphasizes preventive measures, which start from detection of people who inculcate radicalism, hatred, and hostility against certain groups, religions or nations. The next phase is detection of activities to recruit, train, brainwash and provide equipment and funding for people to perpetrate acts of terrorism. Public support is pivotal to make intelligence missions a success.

How important is public support?

It might sound like anecdotal evidence, but we did find out after each bomb attack on Bali in 2002, the J.W. Marriott Hotel, the Australian Embassy and Bali for the second time, that two men usually rent a house and dozens of pairs of sandals can be seen outside the front door most nights; they ordered dozens of meals to be delivered and bought various brands of cigarettes. Neighbors actually noticed all these peculiar things. The bombs were not assembled in forests, but in the house next door.

Terror attack have always required a long process, starting from the rental of, usually, a boarding house and getting new ID cards, which should be easily detected by neighborhood or community unit heads. That kind of support is what the government needs from the public when the military territorial operation is revived. There cannot be great intelligence or policing without public support.

Coordination between the military and police has been ongoing since the Bali bombing in 2002. Has it been effective?

Indeed it has been, but such cooperation has been less effective as we have not had full cooperation from other institutions. For example the Ministry of Home Affairs, especially when it comes to applications for new ID cards. Also the Directorate General of Immigration has been lax in the case of applications for new passports, and so forth. Most of us can recall that the Jamaah Islamiyah leader in Singapore, Mas Slamet Kastari, who several years ago fled Singapore, got to Penang and proceeded to Belawan (Medan's seaport), Denpasar, Surabaya and settled in Sidoarjo, East Java.

In less than one month, he was able to obtain an Indonesian ID card and passport for himself, in addition to helping his wife do the same before they were finally arrested in Tanjung Pinang port (on Bintan island near Singapore). A case like this is why interdepartmental coordination is so important. Jamaah Islamiyah is a politically motivated group, which intends to establish a large pan-Islamic state (across southeastern Asia). This movement cannot be addressed through legal and intelligence measures alone, but also requires the involvement of other institutions.


Their aspirations can be channeled through political parties in this democratic country. We may open a dialog with spiritual leaders and supporters of such an ideology, in order to get to know what they want; what kind of Islamic state and sharia they want to implement.

Such a democratic exercise occurred when Islamic politicians demanded the formalization of the Jakarta Charter in our Constitution, but to no avail. Religious, economic and social approaches are also possible.

Extreme religious conservatism at the grassroots level cannot be addressed through military operations or law enforcement alone, but through the persuasive approach using religious figures, in this case the Ministry of Religious Affairs, the Indonesian Ulema Council and Muslim clerics.

We can ask the extremist groups what books they read and which teachings justify the killing of others. We have also learned that most suicide bombers have come from poor families, although poverty does not equate with terrorism necessarily.

What we should do is consider how to address the root causes of terrorism, such as the feelings of being oppressed, marginalization, the endless cycle of revenge in conflict areas, the reaction against globalization, the reaction against U.S. hegemony and other issues. To address poverty, we need to create more jobs.

Which measures are most urgent?

We need to integrate the work of law enforcement institutions and intelligence, as well as improve security in public facilities and establishments in transportation and energy infrastructure, which are prone to terror attacks.

Since the government has refused to ban it, does Jamaah Islamiyah really exist in Indonesia?

I have no capacity to comment on that. It'd be better to ask me what JI is. The facts and what I saw myself reveal that JI was behind the terror attacks. Evidence presented to the court in the trial of the Bali bombers, in the form of documents and other materials, showed that the masterminds and field operators of the attack were JI members.

The bomb attacks on the residence of the Philippine envoy to Indonesia, on the Marriott Hotel and the Australian Embassy, were perpetrated by JI. Singapore released a white book on JI and Malaysia arrested dozens of JI members.

JI member (Indonesian citizen) Fatur Rachman Al-Ghozi was captured and later shot dead in the Philippines and several Indonesian students arrested in Pakistan are JI members. A military training ground in Mindanao belongs to JI and some verdicts handed down by the South Jakarta District Court refer to the defendants as JI members.

Are these things not considered proof? The UN has also listed JI as a terrorist organization, so what else is there for us to deny?

* Published by The Jakarta Post, October 21, 2005