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.
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
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.