Jakarta. Analysts on Monday urged the Indonesian government to immediately declare the Islamic State jihadist movement a terrorist group and officially ban the organization in the country, as law enforcers struggle to press criminal charges against Indonesian sympathizers of the movement.
The government has previously expressed concerns over the hundreds of Indonesians fleeing the country to join IS’s cause, including 16 citizens arrested by Turkish authorities earlier this month for trying to cross the border to Syria, reportedly to support the militant movement.
The group, most of them women and children, are scheduled to be deported as soon as Tuesday, said National Police deputy chief Comr. Gen. Badrodin Haiti, but police are still struggling to pin any criminal charges against them.
Investigators plan to question the 16 about other Indonesians who may have joined IS or plan to in the future.
“If we don’t find any links to IS, we will release them immediately,” Badrodin said, adding that police would provide the group with temporary shelters as several members reportedly sold their homes to finance their trip to Turkey. “We will contact their family members and reach out to their district leaders for a solution,” he said.
Six arrests made
Chief security minister Tedjo Edhy Purdjiatno said the 16 would likely evade charges under the anti-terror law since Indonesia had not officially declared Islamic State a terror organization.
“Indonesia must first ban IS. Only then can we sanction citizens who join the radical group,” Tedjo said.
Another 16 Indonesian citizens who separated from a tour group in Turkey this month remain missing. Turkish authorities have been unable to confirm whether they are still in the country or have crossed into Syria.
Indonesia’s National Police are also struggling to charge five suspects accused of recruiting and financing Indonesian fighters for IS.
Six people were initially arrested over the weekend — in Kebayoran Baru, South Jakarta; Bogor, West Java; Tangerang, Banten; and Bekasi, West Java — but police were forced to release one suspect due to lack of evidence.
Among the five still in custody is a man identified as Amin Mude, a resident of the Legenda Wisata housing estate in Cileungsi, Bogor, who was previously arrested in December for a similar case but was released a day later.
Amin is accused of aiding and abetting 12 Indonesians trying to reach Syria via Turkey. The group was arrested in Malaysia, but only one member has so far been jailed for his involvement in a separate terror-related case and for allegedly forging identification papers.
Tedjo said that Amin and the other four suspects detained over the weekend would be charged “for other crimes; not for recruiting Indonesian citizens to join Islamic State.”
The five were found with firearms, passports, plane tickets and a combined $6,000 in cash at the time of their arrests, according to Jakarta Police chief Insp. Gen. Unggung Cahyono.
Based on Indonesia’s terrorism laws, police can keep the suspects in custody for up to seven days before officially charging them with a crime.
“Our investigation is ongoing. We are conducting more searches and are still in the process of gathering evidence,” Badrodin said.
Terrorism expert Al Chaidar told the Jakarta Globe on Monday that the government should immediately close the legal loophole that would set potential IS fighters free from criminal charges. Above all, he said, Indonesia must declare IS an illegal terrorist organization.
“Islamic State is a militant group that has been banned by the United Nations. So it is clear that IS and its ideology are dangerous,” Al Chaidar said.
“The government needs to acknowledge the UN’s declaration and send a message to its people: by joining IS they will violate [the country’s] anti-terrorism laws. This needs to be made clear to deter citizens from supporting IS. This one move would help prevent the spread of terrorism in Indonesia.”
Some 500 Indonesians are estimated to have joined IS, according to Indonesia’s National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT). Some are believed to have returned home to spread the group’s radical ideology in the archipelago.
The figure will only increase should the government fail to act quickly in placing a ban on Islamic State, Chaidar said, adding that several groups already openly backed the militant movement without fear of repercussion.
The counterterrorism agency has identified at least 10 radical Islamist organizations in Indonesia that have publicly aired their support for IS, including Jamaah Ansorut Tauhid (JAT), founded by terror convict Abu Bakar Bashir, and the East Indonesian Mujahidin (MIT), led by fugutive terror suspect Santoso.
‘We can only sanction them’
The BNPT previously called for the government to issue a regulation in lieu of law, or perppu, to widen the current anti-terrorism law, a step it says is needed to halt radicalization and stop the wave of Indonesians joining IS.
President Joko Widodo says he is still working through the details of the new regulation, particularly on what it would prohibit.
Some analysts are suggesting to make it illegal for Indonesians to enter “conflict zones,” while others urge the government to revoke the citizenship of any Indonesian found fighting for militant groups overseas.
However, Vice President Jusuf Kalla disagreed with the latter, saying that would not be the best way to deal with the problem at hand.
The country’s needs to “remain stable,” he argued, and stripping people of their citizenship would do nothing to stop the spread of IS in the country.
“We can’t revoke someone’s citizenship just because of his ideology,” Kalla said. “We can only sanction them. The only way we can solve the issue is by uniting and working on our own ideology.”
Kalla’s recent sentiments directly contradicted comments he made last week, when he said anyone caught fighting for a foreign military force would lose their citizenship.
Still, his stance gained the backing of Home Affairs Minister Tjahjo Kumolo.
“It is not yet necessary to revoke the citizenship of Indonesians who join Islamic State. What we need to do is protect our citizens,” Tjahjo said, adding the government would be better-served preventing potential jihadists leaving the country.
“We will consult with Nahdhlatul Ulama [Indonesia’s largest Muslim organization] and work on the anti-terrorism law to prevent Indonesians from going to Syria to fight for IS,” Tjahjo said.
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