A day after President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono warned of the “serious threat” from Islamic extremism, his chief security minister played down the issue as nothing to worry about.
Djoko Suyanto, the coordinating minister for political, legal and security affairs, said on Friday that the resurgence of the Indonesian Islamic State (NII) movement was not large enough to pose a significant threat.
“It’s not true that we’re weak,” he said. “I’m saying that in the national context, we shouldn’t worry about the movement. We only need to raise our awareness.”
He added, “We need to see if the movement is massive enough to get power on the national scale, which it doesn’t have yet.”
Recent revelations that the spate of book bombs sent to prominent figures last month were masterminded by NII proponents, who champion the establishment of an Islamic caliphate in the country, have shined a light on the movement, which has reportedly been recruiting members undetected by the authorities for 19 years.
The group is also believed to have been behind the foiled Good Friday plot to bomb a church, gas pipeline and military arsenal in Serpong, Tangerang.
On Thursday, Yudhoyono acknowledged the creeping radicalization in the country, calling it “a continuous and serious threat in terrorism and in horizontal violence.”
He called on all Indonesians to help stamp out extremism in their communities, and not just rely on the police to do the job.
However, Din Syamsuddin, chairman of Muhammadiyah, the country’s second-largest Islamic organization, accused the government of ignoring and even exploiting the growing NII movement.
“The NII is actually an old issue that’s been around for more than 20 years, or more than 60 if you want to link it to DI [Darul Islam, an extremist movement],” he said.
“But even though it has claimed so many lives, the government has taken no serious action to address it.”
He claimed the government was using the NII for political gain. “The government actually supports this kind of movement and uses it as a political commodity, which serves to discredit Muslims,” he said.
Tubagus Hasanuddin, a legislator from the opposition Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) who sits on House of Representatives Commission I, overseeing security affairs, said that lax government oversight had allowed the NII’s numbers to swell to 160,000 nationwide.
“It’s growth has been quite fast because although the government has known about the NII for several years, it has continued to give it room [to grow],” he said.
Sidney Jones, a terrorism expert from the International Crisis Group, said there were several variants of the NII across the country, each with different objectives.
“The NII KW9, for instance, which is led by Panji Gumilang, also known as Abu Toto, doesn’t carry out terrorism,” she said.
“It carries out fraud to get funding. So it always targets university students as a source of funding.”
Pepi Fernando, the suspected mastermind behind the Good Friday and book bomb plots, was himself believed to have been recruited on campus. He also claimed he learned to build the explosives on the Internet.
On Friday, Tifatul Sembiring, the communications and information technology minister, announced his office would block all Web sites promoting terrorism, but not those teaching bomb-making.
“If they are, by nature, spreading hate, agitating [people], those we will close down. There is a [legal] basis for that,” he said.
“But if it is something scientific, we do not have any basis to close it down. What is forbidden is bombing people, but the making of those weapons is general knowledge.”