Foiled attack shows shift in focus of Islamist extremists in Indonesia

01-top-imageBy Casey Mallon, CIB Asia/Eurasia Desk
Analytical question: Does Jemaah Islamiyah continue to pose a security threat today?

Early last month, Detachment 88, Indonesia’s counterterrorism unit, foiled an attempt by the Katibah Gigih Ramat (KGR) Cell to launch a rocket at Singapore’s Marina Bay from the island of Batam. The failed attempt indicates the rising popularity of the Islamic State (ISIS) in Indonesia and shows that Indonesian Islamist militants are becoming increasingly globally-oriented. It can be stated with moderate confidence that Jemaah Islamiyah does not continue to pose a security threat today, as it has been overshadowed by ISIS.

Earlier this year, ISIS carried out a series of attacks in Jakarta, where Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) had attacked seven years earlier. The attack was the first since 2009. Since then, Detachment 88 has increased its efforts at identifying and neutralizing Islamist militants in Indonesia, attempting to stop Islamist extremist attacks. The failed plan is among several in a series of attempts by ISIS to extend their reach into Southeast Asia. Bahrun Naim has been the main bridge between ISIS and Southeast Asia. In 2014, Naim went to Syria to join ISIS and since then has been sending money and plans back to his homeland for further ISIS attacks. KGR, the cell responsible for the rocket plot, is one of many ISIS cells in Indonesia and has received financial and logistical support from Naim.

On August 5th Detachment 88 apprehended six men who were part of the KGR Cell, which is believed to be led by Gigih Rahmat Dewa. The foiled plan was to fire a rocket from the small Indonesian island of Batam at Singapore’s Marina Bay (pictured), a popular tourist destination. Batam is farther away from the islands where most Islamist extremist activity has taken place in the past, namely Java and Borneo, and is a mere 56 miles from Singapore. In fact, Taufik Andrie, an expert at the Institute for International Peace Building, has stated that Batam has become a “hub” for Islamists in Indonesia who want to fight alongside ISIS in Syria. In accordance with that, the KGR cell has been known to help such militants receive training and transportation so that they may travel from Indonesia to Syria.

This development not only indicates a rise in Islamist extremism in Indonesia, but also suggests a shift in the extremists’ focus. JI was primarily active on the islands of Borneo and Java while the recent plot was hatched in Batam, a small island neighboring Singapore. Batam is a significant distance from the locations of previous terrorist attacks, marking a change in the intentions of Indonesian Islamists. The plot also goes against the former trend of terrorists going after local targets such as police facilities or churches; instead, the militants aimed high, targeting one of Singapore’s upscale tourist destinations, Marina Bay. Additionally, it should be noted that the KGR cell trains and helps illegally transport Indonesian militants to Syria to fight with ISIS.

The failed plot indicates that the Islamic State has now become the driving force of Islamist extremism in Indonesia. The shift in location from the main islands of Indonesia to the outlying island of Batam, and the switch from local targets to a foreign state suggests a shift in the focus of Islamist extremists from localized aspirations, like those of JI, to international ones, akin to the goals of ISIS. This development indicates that more radical Islamists in Indonesia are aligning themselves with the fresh, new message of ISIS rather than with the older, local JI. This is significant in determining if JI remains a security threat, because it shows how JI has become relatively inactive compared to other jihadist groups in Southeast Asia. The failed attempt is one of many in a series of operations by ISIS while JI has gone virtually silent, their last known attack being in 2009. This incident supports my current analytical view that, with moderate confidence, Jemaah Islamiyah does not pose a security threat today.


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