Rise of smaller militant cells forces Indonesia to rethink terror strategy
While large-scale acts of terrorism have fallen, smaller instances of religious violence that include attacks on churches and beatings of non-Muslims have risen.
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But the capture of such big-name figures as Mr. Patek – the Javanese-Arab is believed to have participated in the 2002 Bali bombings and to have served as a key link between Al Qaeda and its Southeast Asian ally, Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) – are becoming increasingly rare.
Since 2002, Indonesian authorities have captured or killed many of the top militants operating in the country amid a successful crackdown on large terrorist groups such as JI.
That success, however, hasn't ended the threat posed by the country's extremists. It's merely atomized it, security specialists say, fueling the rise of smaller splinter groups and forcing large groups such as JI to do more networking than plotting.
Large bombing campaigns aimed at foreigners have given way to smaller-scale instances of politically and religiously motivated violence targeting locals. And the changes are forcing Indonesia to focus more on combating the root causes of extremism.
"We’re seeing much more activity on the part of small groups of seven to 10 people rather than the JI or JAT [Jamaah Ansharut Tauhid],” says Sidney Jones, a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group.
The rise of splinter cells
JAT is, according to the International Crisis Group, an above-ground organization made up of individuals with known ties to fugitive extremists and members of JI. But it was formed by imprisoned radical cleric Abu Bakar Bashir, who faces terrorism charges for allegedly helping set up and fund a militant training camp in Aceh that gave birth to a terror cell led by Abdullah Sonota, whom police arrested last June. Mr. Bashir has also been implicated in providing weapons to a group that robbed a bank in Medan, Sumatra, allegedly in search of funds for jihad.
The small group that led the robbery is a configuration of former criminals and individuals who attended JI teachings, says Noor Huda Ismail, a former student of Bashir’s who now works on reforming accused terrorists.
JI itself is a waning presence here. While the militant Islamic organization was behind dozens of large-scale attacks between 1999 and 2004, its last successful operation was the 2009 hotel bombings in Jakarta.