Jakarta. President Joko Widodo is considering issuing an emergency government regulation to deter Indonesians from joining Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq,amid growing concerns that they might pose a major security threat upon their return to Indonesia.
Some 500 Indonesians are believed to have joined IS ranks in both Middle Eastern countries, according to Indonesian counterterrorism officials, but the government currently has little ground to stop them other than charging them with violating laws on immigration or citizenship instead of the harsher anti-terror law.
Tedjo Edhy Purdijatno, the chief security minister, said on Thursday that President Joko could soon issue a regulation in lieu of law, or perppu, to penalize those joining or considering joining IS.
“We are considering other forms of the lawbut the fastest [to be enacted] is a perppu,” he said in Jakarta. It is not clear what the perppu will stipulate, but the National Counter Terrorism Agency (BNPT) has been pushing for a similar emergency regulation to expand on prevailing anti-terror statutes.
The president on Thursday confirmed his administration was still looking for ways to deter Indonesians from joining the jihadist militants.
“But it is not yet finalized because there are pluses and minuses,” Joko said.
BNPT spokesman Irfan Idris suggested that the proposed perppu could make it illegal for Indonesians to travel to “conflict prone” countries.
“If there’s a group of people threatening Indonesian sovereignty and spreading hatred or rebellion, action must be immediately taken,” Irfan said.
Approving the request would bring Indonesia in line with neighboring Australia, which has banned its citizens from traveling to conflict zones,such as those in Syria and Iraq.
Calls for the government to stop the wave of Indonesians looking to join IS were renewed after 16 Indonesians were arrested by Turkish officials trying to cross over to Syria, allegedly to join the jihadis.
A team from the BNPT, the National Police’s counterterrorism unit (Densus 88), the State Intelligence Agency (BIN) and the Indonesian Embassy in Ankara are now questioning the Indonesians. Foreign Minister Retno L.P. Marsudi said the team had not been able to determine whether the group was really trying to join IS.
“All we know is that they were definitely trying to cross the [Turkish] border into Syria,” she said.
The Indonesians have also refused to be repatriated back to Indonesia, Tedjo said.
The Foreign Ministry’s director of consular and legal affairs, Lalu Muhammad Iqbal, however, said that despite the group’s claims, there was little doubt that they were trying to join IS.
“Trying to enter [Syria] through Turkey would lead them straight into IS strongholds,” he said.
Indonesia has imposed a ban on citizens traveling to Syria since a rebellion against President Bashar Al-Assad ripped through the country four years ago.
“Right now there are fewer than 1,000 Indonesians in Syria but the new arrivals keep coming because of human trafficking; they’re sneaking into the country using illegal agents,” Iqbal said.
Another group of 16 Indonesians in Turkey has gone missing amid fears that they too may have attempted to cross the border to join IS. The second group traveled to Turkey last month as part of a tour group organized by an Indonesian travel agency before going missing shortly after arrival at Istanbul Ataturk Airport. They parted from the tour group on the pretext they were planning to see relatives.
Indonesian officials earlier said both groups were suspected of traveling to Turkey for the express purpose of crossing over to Syria to join IS. Even with the perppu in place, Indonesians could still travel to Turkey freely, potentially crossing the country’s porous border with Syria. Iqbal said Indonesia and Turkey could enhance bilateral intelligence cooperation after the arrest.
“The Turkish government has started to share information with Indonesia and it wants Indonesia to do the same,” he said.
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