An intensifying six-month police manhunt in Central Java finally led officers to the hideout of one of Southeast Asia's most-wanted men Saturday.
A series of tip-offs allowed police from Indonesia's secretive counter-terrorist police unit Detachment 88 to capture Abu Dujana, thought to be the military leader of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), the Southeast Asian militant network blamed for a string of bombings and attacks in Indonesia.
Mr. Dujana's arrest is the culmination of some 500 arrests – an effort that has also seen Indonesia's police forces evolve from using a reactive to a proactive approach in combating the group. The latest series of arrests in January and February 2007 are the result of a new emphasis on intelligence-driven law enforcement that anticipates crimes, rather than merely reacting.
The campaign also showcases how training, logistical help, and cooperation from foreign agencies such as the Australian Federal Police and the US FBI and CIA were able to help collar a high-value international perpetrator. All the while, the Indonesian government has had to tread a delicate political path in order not to be seen as persecuting Islam in the world's largest Muslim country.
Mr. Dujana, who was arrested with seven other suspected terrorists, is wanted in connection to a string of bomb attacks, including the October 2002 blast in Bali that left 202 dead, and bomb blasts in Jakarta in 2003 and 2004.
According to a hand-drawn chart of the JI's new organizational structure presented by police in March, Dujana was the qoid or commander of a sariyah, or battalion, believed to be a kind of JI special forces. Police officers said they hope the arrest of someone so senior will help them identify the group's links with militants still at large in the Philippines and the Middle East. JI-linked figures such as Noordin Top, a recruiter for the group, are still at large.
"If he [Dujana] talks, he could provide police with information about the structure, strength, international connections, goals, and objectives of JI," says Sidney Jones, Southeast Asia director for the International Crisis Group. "It's a major victory and a huge blow for JI."
New police methods led to arrest
Dujana's arrest adds further burdens to an international terrorist network already reeling from a series of arrests that followed the October 2002 Bali nightclub bombing – Indonesia's first major terrorist attack in this century. Police in Malaysia and Singapore have arrested dozens of JI members under harsh new security laws and the US Navy is helping the Philippine government pursue militants.
The manhunt for JI and domestic terrorists, say former US law enforcement officials in Indonesia, forced Indonesian police and intelligence agents to develop new skills and master new technologies. Zachary Abuza, a political scientist at Simmons College in Boston who tracks Southeast Asian terrorist groups, visited police headquarters several years ago. Mr. Abuza said he was "amazed" at "what they didn't have. No computers, no databases."
Although most observers are quick to credit Indonesian authorities with the successful arrests, officials here concede that they have received significant help from foreign agencies such as the Australian Federal Police and the FBI.
After the October 2002 Bali bombing, Australia's police force sent dozens of specialists in forensics investigations and counterterrorism to assist with the investigation.
"We couldn't have done it without proper detective work," says one foreign police officer involved in training, "but they did need some help."
Indonesia's Detachment 88 has been particularly instrumental in tracking down the Bali bombers. The powerful police contingent, which received training and funding from the CIA, FBI, and former US Special Forces, was established in 2004 specifically to combat domestic terrorism. "88" is a direct reference to the 88 Australians who died in the October 2002 Bali bombing
The series of police arrests this year, based on what police call "forward intelligence," stands in contrast to the more traditional police approach of pursuing leads based on evidence that followed immediately after the October 2002 attacks.
"They learned to anticipate rather than react," says a Western security official.
Shifts in the political landscape in Indonesia helped as well. Many senior Muslim leaders were skeptical that JI even existed. It was only in 2003 that Indonesia passed an antiterrorist law. A videotaped confession by suicide bombers in November 2005 helped persuade senior Islamic clerics that JI had penetrated some of the nation's pesantren, or Islamic boarding schools. "It called for a whole shift in mind-set," says Nong Darol Mahmada, who works for a liberal Muslim thinktank.
JI's internal divisions
Analysts say the arrest will further weaken JI's military wing. Many JI members, analysts say, have turned away from large-scale attacks that cause collateral damage to Muslim civilians in favor of traditional proselytizing, charity, and attacking domestic, as opposed to international, targets to keep themselves off the international law-enforcement agenda.
"JI may not be a problem in the short term," says Abuza, "It's the next 40 years that worries me."
Former members say that JI has now split into several factions. A hard-line minority continues to support attacks against "soft" targets such as those involving civilians. But analysts such as Ms. Jones of the ICG say that many members remain opposed to terrorist attacks. The removal of Dujana, some analysts says, is likely to further exacerbate internal tensions within Indonesia's militant Islamist communities.
According to Nasir Abas, a former JI member in Jakarta, many members increasingly saw the terrorist campaign as counterproductive and likely to draw unwanted retribution from Indonesian security forces.
"Dujana was a charismatic figure who bridged many of the factions and could unite the organization," says Abuza.