Indonesia hotel bomber: a graduate of jihad 'ivy league'
Investigation turns to an Islamist school that one of the suspected suicide bombers attended in 1995.
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"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?"
Huda and Dr. Carl Ungerer, an Australian security analyst, had warned in a report issued less than 24 hours before the July 17 bombing, that JI might be planning new attacks.
The report said that after the arrest of over 400 JI members, including the death of key leaders in a seven-year US-supported counterterrorist campaign, JI's violent wing was weakened. But they warned the release of recent members from prison and a generational turnover, could reenergize JI.
My former roommate, the terrorist
Terrorism was a long way from Huda's mind when his father, a prison parole officer, enrolled him in the Al Mukmin boarding school in 1985. He was 12 years old then. Indonesia's thousands of Islamic boarding schools, or pesantrens, promise to teach moral values and religion, often to the children of poor families.
Indonesia's President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, elected in a landslide victory of more 60 percent of the popular vote on July 8, is a pesantren graduate. So was another of Mr. Huda's roommates, Fadlullah Hasan, who took part in the 2002 bombing in Bali.
Many of Indonesia's pesantren espouse a tolerant, pluralist version of Islam, often integrated with pre-Islamic beliefs. Some 88 percent of Indonesia's 237 million people declare Islam as their faith. A small fringe of pesantrens preach a dogmatic version of Islam, teaching students it is their religious duty to wage war on the West.
"We were taught Islam is white or black, that it [hard-line jihadism] is the only salvation there is," Huda says. "The only music we heard was ... Arabic religious songs, from cracking loudspeakers," Huda writes in an essay. In speech class, he says, he was taught that "the infidels and Jews would never stop fighting us till we followed their religion. When I was 15, it was my favorite topic, too."
They're not psychopaths
Huda, who essentially grew up with two men who became suicide bombers, cautions against seeing such men as "psychopaths." "They have their own logic and make a rational calculation about what they're doing."
At university, Huda's outlook shifted after his release from his sequestered life. University encouraged him to indulge a questioning nature that had sometimes riled fellow pesantren members. A side job as a tour guide exposed him to foreigners. "I learned they [Westerners] were nice, normal human beings," he says.
Only a minority of Ngruki graduates, Mr. Huda says, become violent jihadists or worked for JI. "Most make their way in a pluralist world," he says claiming other graduates became entrepreneurs or office workers, with one entering parliament.
Huda, now a father of one, says he keeps in touch with former JI members and prisoners, helping them find work. One project is teaching returning guerrillas from the Philippines to fatten cows for a traditional Islamic sacrifice. He also helps take care of the children of prisoners.
Huda, who says he was "mad" when moderate Muslims in Indonesia did not speak out against terrorism, says his approach is to remain deeply engaged with the fringes of Indonesian Islam that have bred its terrorism problem. "I still have the blue blood of the ground zero of radicalism," he says.
• Material from the wire services was used in this report