Jakarta bombings: Why Indonesia's Islamist radicals attack
Charity worker Noor Huda Ismail went to the same Islamic boarding school as some of Indonesia’s top terrorists. Now he explains their ideology.
Indonesian authorities said Sunday that there is an increasing evidence that the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), an Islamist group responsible for more than 300 murders in attacks dating back to 2000, was responsible for Friday's deadly attacks on the JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels in Jakarta.Skip to next paragraph
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Ansyaad Mbai, a senior Indonesian counter-terrorist official, said that an unexploded bomb found in a laptop in an 18th floor room at the Marriott indicates that the attackers – two of them suicide bombers – used the room as a sort of command center for the attack.
If it is JI, it's quite likely that some of the operatives would have been drawn from the Al Mukmin Islamic boarding school, which Sidney Jones, a leading researcher on the group, has described as part of a militant "ivy league."
Noor Huda Ismail is a 1991 graduate of the school who roomed with boys who later joined JI – one became a suicide bomber – and is now a researcher and head of the Institute for International Peacebuilding, an Indonesian foundation that seeks to reintegrate Islamist fighters into mainstream society. He stays in touch with a number of JI's jailed activists and his descriptions of the school's training gives outsiders a valuable window on the ideology behind JI's attacks.
"They sincerely believe what they did was right to defend other Muslims," Mr. Huda says, explaining the thinking of some of the young men indoctrinated at Al Mukmin. "That's what worries me."
An 'ivy league' school for militants
Huda says the atmosphere at the school, located in Ngruki, Central Java, is one of unquestioning obedience and constant warnings of foreign and Christian plots to harm Islam.
Some of the students became true believers and signed up for jihad (holy war). Others were simply naïve or didn't question their superiors when asked to do favors that later incriminated them in wider terror plots. (He recalls one acquaintance who simply gave his bank account to a man who later used it to organize a 2003 bomb plot on Bali that killed 202 people). "They were trained to be robotic and not to question," Huda says.
Still, Huda says that most of the students at Ngruki never participated in any militant activity, and that the vast majority's views grow more moderate, as his did, when they make contact with the wider world. But as long as militancy and hate are preached, some portion of students will act on that, says Huda.
Choosing a different path
"I used to think like them," says Mr. Huda of his teen years studying hard-line jihadism. "So I know that if I can change, why can't they?"