Indonesia Struggles to End Flow of Suicide Bombers, Anti-Terror Chief Says

Terror groups in Indonesia are active even after recent crackdowns, because current laws don’t prevent the recruitment of militants, the chief of the national police force’s anti-terrorism squad said.

There is a “huge reservoir” of “would-be suicide bombers,” because the government has failed to rehabilitate captured terrorists and prevent them from radicalizing others, Tito Karnavian, chief of Special Detachment 88, told foreign journalists today in Jakarta. “We don’t have specific treatments for terrorist prisoners. They can convene, sit and discuss freely in the prisons.”

Indonesia, a secular, democratic republic with the world’s largest Muslim population, criminalizes specific activities and uses open courts to deal with terrorism in an attempt to garner public support in prosecuting militants who claim they fight for Islam. While Indonesian laws are “responsive” in supporting police hunting down terrorists, they don’t touch the underlying ideology that fuels the violence, Karnavian said.

Indonesia has increased anti-terror operations since the July 17, 2009, bombings at Jakarta’s JW Marriott and Ritz- Carlton hotels that killed nine people, including the two suicide bombers. They were the first terrorist attacks by Islamist militants in Indonesia in almost four years.

Within a month after the incident, police uncovered a cell that masterminded the hotel attacks and sought to assassinate President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. The cell was led by Noordin Mohammad Top, who was a senior member of the Southeast Asia militant network Jemaah Islamiyah.

Big Blow

Malaysian-born Noordin was suspected of involvement in every major anti-Western attack in Indonesia since 2002, which together killed almost 300 people, the U.S. State Department said in a 2008 report. Indonesian police on Sept. 17, 2009, killed Noordin, whom they said was head of al-Qaeda in Southeast Asia.

Further investigations led the police to discover a terrorist training camp in Aceh province ran by Dulmatin, suspected of being a Jemaah Islamiyah senior member who helped plan the Oct. 12, 2002, bombing attacks in Bali that killed 202 people. Detachment 88 killed him in a March 9 police raid.

Police killed 13 people and arrested 61 others related to the Aceh training camp, Karnavian said. While the recent crackdown was a “big blow” to the terrorist network as another plan to attack Yudhoyono was disrupted, Jemaah Islamiyah-linked groups “not only are surviving but also collaborating” among themselves, he said.

Toy Guns

While more than 470 Islamist militants have been prosecuted for terror-related crimes, groups on the main island of Java can still train recruits in weapon and bomb skills using legal tools like toy guns and hunting rifles, Karnavian said.

“We need to revise the legal regime to include rehabilitation and prevention,” Karnavian said. “It’s also a matter of finance. If it’s not recognized in our system legally, then there’s no budget and we need a big budget for this.”

Yudhoyono plans to form a new counter-terrorism body that focuses on preventing the spread of militant ideas, Karnavian said, without providing a timeframe.

Talk about this body, which may include the ministries of religious affairs and education, emerged soon after investigations of the 2009 hotel bombings revealed one of the suicide bombers was a teenager.

To contact the reporter on this story: Achmad Sukarsono in Jakarta at asukarsono@bloomberg.net

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