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Members of a police bomb squad inspect the wreckage of a motorbike used to carry out Sunday’s suicide bomb attack at the Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral in Makassar, South Sulawesi, Indonesia in March. Photo: AP

Indonesian militant group’s plot to ‘overthrow’ Jokowi may be far-fetched, but officials warn NII could be ‘launching pad’ for terror

  • Discovery of a plot to overthrow the government by the Islamic State of Indonesia (NII), came during ‘interrogation’ of suspects and seized documents
  • Analysts doubt NII’s ability to overthrow the government, but warned if left unchecked, the group could become ‘massive’ and ‘launching pad’ for terror

An Indonesian Islamic militant group, which once fought an armed insurgency against Jakarta, is believed to be plotting to overthrow the government before the 2024 General elections, say counterterrorism police.

The Islamic State of Indonesia (NII), founded more than seven decades ago, is “recruiting, undergoing para military training and procuring weapons,” Aswin Siregar, head of operations of Detachment 88 (Densus88), the counterterrorism squad of Indonesia’s national police, told This Week in Asia.

“The next stage will be war. The details are being further investigated by investigators,” said Siregar. He said the discovery of the plot came about during “interrogation of NII suspects,” and documents seized during their arrests. He gave no further details.

Police arrested 16 NII members in West Sumatra last month.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo gestures during an interview in October 2021. Photo: Reuters
While analysts and a former militant doubt NII’s ability to overthrow the government, they warned that if left unchecked, the group could become “massive” and enable it to realise its goal of toppling the democratic government of President Joko Widodo and replacing it with an Islamic Caliphate.

Sofyan Tsauri, former member of al-Qaeda Southeast Asia said the claim of NII overthrowing the government is “somewhat exaggerated” as the group’s strength is limited.

What is worrying about NII, says Sofyan, is the group’s ideology which has been “a launching pad” for many to become involved in terror groups.

Police officers stand in attention during a show of force in the wake a suicide bomb attack in Jakarta, Indonesia in March. Photo: AP

“It is NII’s ideology that we worry about, not its strength, which is to change the country’s [democratic] ideology to a sectarian one,” said Sofyan who spent five years in jail for helping to arm terror groups.

He was released in 2015 and left the group. He now helps Indonesia’s counterterrorism effort by sharing his knowledge at seminars.

Densus88’s Siregar said investigators “have data” showing that there are 1,200 NII members in West Sumatra.

The NII, also referred to as Darul Islam, was founded by Muslim activist Sekarmaji Marjan Kartosuwiryo in West Java between 1947 and 1948.

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In 1949, Kartosuwiryo proclaimed the Islamic State of Indonesia (NII) in West Java and waged an armed insurgency against the central government until his capture in 1962. He was later executed.

Islah Bahrawi, executive director of the Indonesian Moderates’ Network, said NII/Darul Islam is the “embryo” of all militant groups in Indonesia including the al-Qaeda linked Jemaah Islamiah (JI), the group behind the devastating 2002 Bali bombings; Indonesian Islamic State (Isis) affiliate, Jemaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD).

“The people who went to Syria to join ISIS, those who went to Afghanistan to fight with the Taliban were generally rooted in NII and later metamorphosed into Jemaah Islamiah or Jemaah Ansharut Daulah,” said Bahrawi, adding that NII is flexible and adaptable.

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Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, has suffered from periodical terror attacks.

From 2000 to 2010, the al-Qaeda linked Jemaah Islamiah (JI) was behind all of the major terror attacks in the country. Many of its members started off with NII and later joined JI.

JI staged its last attack in 2011, when a suicide bomber detonated an explosive device at a mosque attended by police officers in Cirebon, West Java.

NII goes door-to-door to recruit new members from the general public as well within their own circle of friends, says Sofyan.

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“They indoctrinate and brainwash their [members] that [democratic] Indonesia is idolatry. NII does not have the capacity to wage an armed insurgency like in the past but they have strongholds in areas in Ciamis, Tasikmalaya in West Java,” said Sofyan, adding that the government needs to be on the alert.

Indonesian Moderates’ Network’s Islah Bahrawi said NII has been “hibernating” for a long time and “we were not aware.” “It has been moving underground in a massive way and were detected only recently,” said Bahrawi.

Bahrawi said it has branches in Lampung on Sumatra island, Maluku Islands, Bali, Central and West Java. NII has been undergoing training on how to use machetes and bows and arrows in clandestine training camps.

Bahrawai said no one should underestimate the dangers of machetes and pointed to the 1994 conflict in Rwanda where between 500,000-600,000 Tutsi minorities in the country were hacked to death with machetes.

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Where does NII get its funding?

There is no confirmed evidence of the financial structure of NII. NII is referred to the radical ideology that emerged and was inspired by the former Islamist militancy, Darul Islam, said Sylvia Laksmi, a PhD Scholar at ANU researching on terrorist financing.

Recently, this “intangible power” re-emerged and influenced a broader public coverage, including local and transnational networks, to fight against the Government.

“The network is suspected of collaborating with transnational Salafi, jihadi, and Wahabism networks, including overseas Ikhwanul Muslimin [Muslim Brotherhood] networks,” said Laksmi.

In law enforcement, some suspected terrorists claim they are part of NII-inspired networks and plan attack plots. But there is no official declaration of NII as a physical organisation probing to the absence of a management and operations structure.

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“When they plan violent attacks, most of the perpetrators are part of JI networks or even the alumna of JI members. Thus, we could not acknowledge that as an organisation, NII exists, including their structured financing networks,” said Laksmi.

Current trends of terrorist financing show that charities, internet crowdfunding and legal businesses are the most popular methods of fundraising and fund-storing for terrorists, which are adopted by prominent terrorist networks, including JI, JAD, and pro-IS groups, said Laksmi.

In addition, it has been discussed recently among government agencies whether it could satisfy the provisions of including NII as an organisation in the List of terrorism suspects and Terrorist organizations, according to Laksmi.