People: Ansyaad Mbai


Terrorism remains a real threat in Indonesia, and the target has shifted to the "near enemy", Indonesian police chief of the National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT), Ansyaad Mbai told Khabar Southeast Asia in an exclusive interview last week. [2013: Oktofani]

Terrorism remains a real threat in Indonesia, and the target has shifted to the “near enemy”, Indonesian police chief of the National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT), Ansyaad Mbai told Khabar Southeast Asia in an exclusive interview last week. [2013: Oktofani]

Name             : Inspector General (Retired) Ansyaad Mbai

Job tittle         : Head of National Agency for Combating Terrorism (BNPT)

Place of Birth : Buton, Southeast Sulawesi

Date of Birth  : 2 June 1948

Related article about Ansyaad Mbai:

  1. Bomb-makers getting more sophisticated: Ansyaad Mbai
  2. Indonesia: Following the money to new terror funding tactics
  3. Indonesia preparing amendment to terrorism laws: Ansyaad Mbai

Cooking Up a Clean New Life

Khabar Southeast Asia

Cooking up a clean new life

Machmudi Hariono (in white), aka Yusuf Adamira, and two Dapoer Bistik employees, pictured at the restaurant in Semarang, Central Java. The enterprise is run by The Institute for International Peacebuilding to provide former terrorists with a place to work. [Elisabeth Oktofani/Khabar]

Restaurant business provides a new life, an income and a sense of purpose to former terrorist 

For three years, Machmudi Hariono, also known as Yusuf Adirima, 36, has been managing a backstreet restaurant in Semarang, Central Java.

It was no easy feat for this convicted terrorist to put violent activity behind him, land a job and focus on building a clean life.

A former member of the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) who fought in the Philippines Yusuf, was sentenced to ten years in prison by Semarang District Court in 2004 for possessing and keeping explosive materials, detonators, firearms and ammunitions in a rented house in Semarang.

He spent five and half years in three different prisons, then was paroled for good behaviour.

“When I was in jail, I was thinking, what am I going to do when I am released?” Yusuf told Khabar Southeast Asia at Dapoer Bistik (Steak Kitchen) restaurant, on Jalan Kusumawardhani, Semarang.

“If I want to work as a civil servant, it is not possible because I have been black listed…It would not be easy for me to find a job. It became a problem for me.”

Fortunately, he met Noor Huda Ismail, who gave him not only motivation to start a new life, but also a work opportunity.

Skills first, ideology later

The counter-terrorism expert has devoted much thought to how to wean violent extremists back into civil society. His Institute for International Peacebuilding (Yayasan Prasasti Perdamaian) has a rehabilitation programme that provides skills training and runs businesses – including Dapoer Bistik – where former terrorists can work.

“One of the possibilities that we can do is what I call a social enterprise. Any initiative of peace should be very practical and applicable,” Noor Huda said at a recent panel discussion in Jakarta on terrorism and de-radicalisation in Indonesia.

Civil society efforts are crucial to peace-building and terror prevention, because an approach restricted to law enforcement can feed the problem, he said.

According to data collected by the institute, police have arrested more than 700 terrorists in Indonesia since 2002, weakening militant networks. Meanwhile, 58 terror suspects were killed outright and at least 28 individuals were wrongfully arrested.

“It produced a cycle of vendetta and a narrative that will last for a very long time,” Noor Huda said.

The graduate of Pesantren Al-Mukmin in Ngruki, Solo explained that to disengage militants from violence, one must reach out to them, provide skills training, and then approach their ideology.

“We don’t go to their ideology first because no one like being told [what to believe]. We have to win their trust by visiting them, talking to them and understanding them. But understanding them does not mean supporting them,” he said.

“Once we win their trust, we can provide them skill training such as in cooking and also managing a café. Later, we can approach their ideology. That is what I did with Yusuf,” Noor Huda explained.

From Jihad to Culinary Business

After interviewing Yusuf in prison, Noor Huda visited him regularly, and finally recruited him to the restaurant business. Yusuf found himself falling in love with it.

“At that time, I worked in a duck restaurant. Somehow, I found that I like to cook, serve people and also send delivery food,” Yusuf said. “From there, I realised that I have an interest in cooking and the culinary business, because food is among our daily needs,” he said.

Dapoer Bistik serves Indonesian-style beef steak, chicken, crabs and squid with an affordable price for local people. Located in a culinary centre of Semarang, the restaurant earns Rp 1m-2m ($104-$208) per day.

Yusuf is responsible for managing the restaurant’s finances and hopes to strengthen the brand so they can develop a franchise business.

“Dapoer Bistik has just got a nomination to join a comparative study in Bandung in November, where we would meet prospective buyers who are interested to invest in Dapoer Bistik,” he told Khabar.

Outreach work

When he’s not focusing on the business, Yusuf visits friends: other convicted former terrorists who are in jail in Jakarta, Semarang, Nusa Kambangan or Depok.

While maintaining the ties of friendship, he also talks to them about business alternatives to consider once they are released.

“I do this because I care about them. I don’t want them to have no job when they are released and end up engaged with terrorism activity again,” he explained.

“I would not force them to do the same business as me. If they are interested with other stuff, then they can also do it. At least, they have a source of income,” he added.

Noor Huda has also encouraged Yusuf to recruit drop-out students to work at Dapoer Bistik, to give the daily work a greater sense of social mission.

“Merely being employed is not everything for former terrorists. Therefore, I asked Yusuf to start searching for drop-out students to work at Dapoer Bistik,” he said.

“It provided him a feeling that he was a useful member in the community because he was helping to solve one of Indonesia’s acute social problems, which is unemployment.”

Expanding to Solo

Bistik Iga Bakar, an Indonesian-style rib steak, served at Dapoer Bistik.

Yusuf has successfully brought several convicted terrorists into the business.

They include Hari Setia, who spent four years in jail for providing a shelter for Noordin M Top; Wawan, who helped fund the second Bali bombing by robbing a cell phone shop in Semarang; Ardi, who provided Noordin M Top transportation; and Jack Harun, who was Noordin’s former right-hand man and also a veteran of the Ambon conflict.

“One of Hari’s greatest contributions to Dapoer Bistik is his initiative to register Dapoer Bistik’s products at the health department in Semarang,” Noor Huda said.

“Wawan used to work for Dapoer Bistik for two months cleaning up dishes. He’s now running his own business, providing glass for construction purposes.” he explained.

An unexpected request came from Jack Harun in 2011: to open a Dapoer Bistik in Solo.

“With directions from Yusuf, Jack has chosen an excellent place. It’s in a culinary area and near a mosque where Bashir delivered his sermons and a place where many Islamic activists get together,” he said, referring to jailed Indonesian cleric Abu Bakar Bashir, seen as a spiritual mentor to militants.

Noor Huda explained that running Dapoer Bistik in Solo is much more challenging than Semarang, because it is located in the heart of a radical environment.

“The role of environment plays an important role in disengaging individuals from violent activities. Dapoer Bistik in Solo is still a work in progress. It is far too early to judge the effectiveness of the programme,” he said.

But one positive indicator is that Jack has managed to recruit a former member of Tim Hisbah to Dapoer Bistik in Solo, he said.

Hisbah, an anti-vice group with a history of raiding nightclubs, has recently launched attacks on police, and is believed responsible for suicide attacks in Solo and Cirebon.

“Not such a dangerous person”

Last month, Yusuf reached another landmark in his rehabilitation: he completed his probation on October 10th.

Prior to that date, he was required to report to the East Java Police once a month, making a five-hour trip by motorcycle to Surabaya to sign a piece of paper.

“During my probation period, I was often asked by police to give them information about the terror suspects. I understand that they must still suspect me sometimes,” he said.

“Not just police. My family often checks on me. But I understand and I cannot blame them,” he added.

Yusuf told Khabar he has brought his parents and family to Dapoer Bistik to show them who he is today.

“The most important thing is that I can assure them is that their son is not such a dangerous person anymore. That I have not engaged in any terrorism activity anymore. That is the most important thing,” he explained proudly.

Indonesia preparing amendment to terrorism laws: Ansyaad Mbai

Khabar Southeast Asia

Indonesia preparing amendment to terrorism laws: Ansyaad Mbai

In the second part of an exclusive interview, Indonesia’s counterterrorism chief describes ways about how Indonesian law and prison facilities make his job tougher.

A great weakness of the Indonesian legal system is that it does not authorise action against the “spiritual mentors” of militants, Ansyaad Mbai, head of the National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT), told Khabar Southeast Asia in an exclusive interview last week.

To address that weakness, the government is preparing an amendment to the 2003 anti-terrorism law, Ansyaad said in a wide-ranging discussion on security issues in which he described ongoing obstacles to fighting terrorism, as well as concrete actions his agency is taking.

The legal protection of hate speech, poor prison facilities and a too-soft approach to terrorism convicts are among the obstacles outlined by the counterterrorism chief.

Rooting out radical ideology will be a long-term effort requiring broad support from civil society and moderate clergy, he said. Many former militants are co-operating with the effort, what he called one of the most effective methods of stemming radicalisation.

Free speech, or hate speech?

The recent arrests of some more than ten terror suspects in Solo suggest that the city remains a focus of illegal activity, despite concerted efforts to stomp out terrorism.

Terrorism persists in the central Javanese city because there are so many ideological figures or “spiritual mentors” who still actively preach radical messages there, Ansyaad said.

“Unfortunately, the Indonesian legal system has not yet categorised those activities as criminal actions. It’s what I consider a great weakness of our legal system” he told Khabar.

“Actually many religious leaders have urged us to take serious actions against the figures who are actively spreading hatred and enmity in the name of religion. But we do not have the authority to do so,” he explained.

“Those hate-filled speeches are still categorised as freedom of speech.” Ansyaad added that Indonesia is currently finalising a draft amendment of 2003 Anti-terrorism law that would add hate speech activity as a criminal action. “By adding the hate speech as criminal activity, we can be more proactive in countering terrorism. It is because that (hate speech) is actually the first step of the radicalism process and terrorism,” he said.

Radicalised in prison

Indonesian law also mandates a “soft approach” in handling terror detainees, he said. For example, infamous firebrand cleric and convicted terrorist Abu Bakar Bashir has never been compelled to wear a prison uniform, and is able to continue preaching from prison.

“So we have not only a soft approach, but a too-soft approach,” he said. Ansyaad admitted that Indonesia faces a challenge in curbing the spread of militant ideology in its overburdened prisons.

In March, counterterrorism forces shot dead five suspects believed to have been planning a series of attacks in Bali, which this week marks the tenth anniversary of the worst-ever terrorism attacks on Indonesian soil, the 2002 bombings in Kuta.

Three of the five suspects were former drug dealers who were radicalised by Bali bombers Imam Samudra and Amrozi in Kerobokan prison.

“It is indeed one of our biggest obstacles, minimal facilities that become overloaded. It’s a dilemma,” he said. “If we place all the terrorists in one block, then they will reunite. But if the terrorists are placed with non-terrorists, the non-terrorist can become a terrorist.”

Even if Indonesia were to isolate terrorists in a single facility, it would still be necessary to separate the high-risk prisoners from the low-risk ones, he said.

“So prisons keep trying to improve, but with limited facilities,” he said.

Reaching the ‘brother community’

The national deradicalisation programme Indonesia is currently developing has two main targets: terrorists in prison or police custody, and the broader “brother community” that provides support for terrorists.

“The first objective has been achieved in many countries. But the second objective, targeting the brother community, is a big job and require a long-term strategy,” he said. “We need the involvement of moderate religious leaders and also non-governmental organisations.”

A main goal of the effort is to neutralise radical messages about the meaning of jihad and the treatment of non-believers, for example. A key strategy will be to use former militants to denounce terrorism.

“Experience has shown, the best way to catch a thief is by using a thief. The fact that terrorists complain about this tactic shows that it is effective,” he said.

More than 50 former Indonesian militants who trained in Afghanistan have agreed to co-operate in a BNPT deradicalisation programme, visiting 14 prisons in ten big cities throughout the country “to convince others that what they were doing was wrong,” he said.

“We need more and more like them,” he said. “The more ex-terrorists who oppose terrorism, the better. And certainly that will make terrorists complain,” he said.

For the first part of the interview with Ansyaad, click here.

Bomb-makers getting more sophisticated: Ansyaad Mbai

Khabar Southeast Asia

Bomb-makers getting more sophisticated: Ansyaad Mbai

Terrorism remains a real threat in Indonesia, and the target has shifted to the “near enemy”, Indonesian police chief of the National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT), Ansyaad Mbai told Khabar Southeast Asia in an exclusive interview last week. [Elisabeth Oktofani/Khabar]

The latest terrorism-related arrests net some long-time militants with a grim new group name and deadlier bombs

Terrorism remains a real threat in Indonesia, and militants are becoming more sophisticated at bomb-making, Ansyaad Mbai, head of the National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT), told Khabar Southeast Asia in an exclusive interview Thursday (October 4th).

“With this latest case, the terrorism threat is still real,” Ansyaad said, referring to a string of arrests in September of suspects who claim they belong to Al-Qaeda Indonesia.

No evidence has been found of links to international terrorists. “We have found no evidence of that. But they did indeed plan to form a network called Al-Qaeda Indonesia,” he said.

Suspects picked up in a series of incidents in late September in Solo, Central Java and Depok, West Java appear to have been more creative and sophisticated than other terror groups in assembling bombs, employing, among other items, plastic food containers and rice cookers.

Police seized liquid nitroglycerin bombs packed in plastic bags, four pipe bombs, two bottle bombs, 4kg of sulphur, 5kg of gunpowder and several mobile phones.

“They have become more sophisticated. It can be seen from the latest evidence which was found: they have prepared the liquid bomb. In fact, our explosive experts considered that the bomb has higher capacity than the previous homemade bomb.” Ansyaad said.

Old group, new name

In a series of raids starting on September 22nd, police detained nine terrorist suspects: Badri Hartono, Rudi Kurnia Putra, Khumaidi, Fajar Novianto, Barkah Nawah Saputra, Triyatno, Arif Pamungkas, Joko Priyanto alias Joko Jihad, and Wendy Febriangga alias Hasan.

Other suspects are still being sought by police, he said, stressing, however, that they do not represent a new group.

Some of the detainees are former members of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) and Jemaah Anshorut Tauhid (JAT), a hardline Islamic group once led by cleric Abu Bakar Bashir.

“So it’s not new at all. There are even some who have served prison time,” he said.

“Since the 2002 Bali bombings, Jemaah Islamiyah has been broken down into numbers of small groups or cells, but the cells are still in touch with one another. Later, when the name changed to Jemaah Anshorut Tauhid, their leader is still Abu Bakar Bashir,” he explained.

“Therefore it needs to be understood that even though they have been changing their name many times, these actually are not new groups. Each group still has the old figures and recruits new members.”

“At a certain level, these groups can reunite to carry out another action. Like now, we can see each group has its plan and carries it out in several different places… So you can’t say it’s new or, as some say, fourth generation. It’s not relevant to classify it in that way,” he said.

New targets

Their goals remain the same, but their targets have shifted over the past decade.

“Before the emphasis was the West, the ‘far enemy.’ Now it’s more the ‘near enemy’. Why? Because they have experienced — over these more than ten years — that in fact what most obstructs their movement is the ‘near enemy’, and the enemy that is nearest to them is the police,” he said.

Their goal, he added, is to establish an Islamic state based on their version of Sharia Islam.

“Careful when you write Sharia Islam…it’s ‘their version of Sharia Islam’,” he said.

Authorities have found no evidence of foreign money flowing to radicals in Indonesia. But 2012 saw evidence of multiple approaches employed to raise money at home.

“It appears that their pattern now is to focus domestically, stealing over the Internet, or using the conventional way, which is by robbing banks or gold shops or whatever they can,” he said.

In May, authorities arrested alleged hackers Rizki Gunawan in Jakarta and Cahya Fitriyanta in Bandung, who managed to break into a multi-level marketing website and obtain almost 5,937 billion rupiah ($617,150) – money used, according to police, to fund terror activities including militant training in Poso and the bombing of a church in Solo last year.

On Monday (October 8th), Cahya Fitriyanta’s trial began in West Jakarta District Court. He faces multiple charges including hacking, money laundering and supporting terrorism.