The following is the record of an interview conducted by the Center for Moderate Muslim Indonesia on Radio Republic Indonesia with Nasir Abas, a former member of the south-east Asia terrorist group, JI, Jamaah Islamiyah. The translation is from CMMI, awful, I tried to clean it up a bit.
Could you describe how Jamaah Islamiyah came into being?
Jamaah Islamiyah was established in 1993, it began with the falling out between Abdullah Sungkar and Ajengan Masduki. At the time, they asked me to choose one leader, Abdullah Sungkar or Ajengan Masduki. I was in Peshawar, Pakistan at the time. I realized that there was a new group just formed that derived from the Negara Islam Indonesia (NII) (Indonesian Islamic State) movement, and the new group was led by Abdullah Sungkar (Abdul Halim) named Al-Jamaah Al- Islamiyah or well known as Jamaah Islamiyah (JI).
So you were introduced to JI in 1993 in Pakistan?
Yes, but I didn't know immediately because all Indonesian and Malaysian sent to Pakistan were from NII. Abdullah Sungkar then left the NII and formed the new group. All the NII members in Pakistan, Singapore, and Indonesia were asked to stay in NII or join with the new group led by Abdullah Sungkar.
After dividing did the two groups communicate with each other?
I escaped from the group two years ago (2003), I am not sure whether they still have communication at this moment. But, before escaping from the group, there was still communication between JI and NII in Indonesia, Malaysia and Philippines.
You got a key position in JI (as the chairman of Mantiqi III). (see http://www.indonesiamatters.com/28/sidney-jones-on-jemaah-islamiyah/) What made you leave the group?
The primary reason was that I saw something wrong with some of the members. They have deviation and incorrect understanding of JI's mission, namely exploding bombs in civilian areas.
What kind of deviation?
Its about understanding the meaning of jihad and its implementation. I understand jihad as the situation I found in Afghanistan and the Philippines, namely by facing the enemy which is attacking the Muslim community in uniform, with weapons. While some JI members like Hambali and his friends made the civilians as the target, such as: the bomb exploding at some churches in 2000, the bomb action in Philippine Embassy in 2001, and Bali bomb in 2002. Since Hambali has been caught, the struggle was continued by Dr. Azahari and Nordin M. Top. I couldn't understand exploding bombs against innocent civilians was jihad. It's incorrect and unsuitable. That was the difference that made me escape from the group.
Could you describe more about JI and how strong it is?
I wrote a book about JI, because I found society doesn't know much about it, in which I explained about the structure of the organization and it's principles. Basically JI exists to struggle for Islamic values and bring into being an Islamic state. The activity includes education, Islamic preaching, social activity, and helping people in conflict areas. And the top leader of JI is called Amir Jamaah, the staff are called Markaziyah. Markaziyah consists of four Mantiqi, Mantiqi 1 until Mantiqi 4.
Could you explain more about the area for each?
The First Mantiqi covers West Malaysia and Singapore, the second Mantiqi covers Sumatra, Java until Nusa Tenggara, the third Mantiqi includes Sabah Malaysia, East Kalimantan, Central Sulawesi, North Sulawesi and Mindanao, South Philiphine, while the fourth Mantiqi includes Australia. There are some Wakalah in a Mantiqi, and the Wakalah is divided into parts, like small groups to study Islam.
How does JI indoctrinate the cadres?
They educate the members, it's done in the groups and the material is about tafsir (Qur'an interpretation), hadiths, sirah nabawiyah (the history of the prophet) and other related knowledge.
How do they recruit members?
It's done slowly through the speeches (Islamic speeches), Islamic courses and Islamic classes. It's all done to get close to society and also to make them understand more about Islam. In one or two years they will offer membership to the ones who are thought suitable. If the candidate agrees, they will conduct the oath (baiat), it means he has formally become a member of JI.
What is the JI member's obligation?
The obligation is stated in written form, unfortunately, I just remember some like: obeying Allah and His Prophet, the leader of organization, protect and defend the leader as well as the members.
Is there any contribution from the members?
We called it infaq, the members suggested to pay but it is not compulsory, it's about 5% from the monthly salary. Some members couldn't pay it. The rest comes from infaq from society, usrah, shadaqah, zakat fitrah and zakat mal.
One of its missions is to conduct Islamic teaching and establish an Islamic state, and help Muslims in conflicts. How does JI consider the laws of a country in the conflict area, as the governments will not let JI get involved in the issue?
JI realizes it, that's why the movement is limited in a country. It is an international movement, not just in Indonesia and Malaysia. They don't want to cause anarchy in reaching the target. The JI that I know gives more attention to education, then society will decide whether they are ready to implement Islamic teaching or not. There must be risk when they help the Muslims in war zones, because it deals with bombs and weapons. However, the use of weapons is just meant for the enemies who attack Muslims.
JI strives to establish an Islamic state, where will this happen?
I am not the top leader of JI, so I do not know about the target to establish an Islamic state.
Is it possible when conducting Islamic preaching and education in a country, JI will see which country where it is possible to establish an Islamic state?
I think JI considers it, unfortunately, I don't know.
You said before that JI emphasises Islamic preaching and education, but then why does JI attempt to cause mayhem and violence?
This is an internal issue in JI, in which some of the members changed the strategy. I think this is because of the recent global political situation, such as war that happened in Arabia in 1989-1990 where America and its allies established bases in Arabian countries. This is the beginning of the anger of the JI members toward America and its allies, because they tried to invade the holy area, which cannot be entered except by Muslims, as well as American attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq, and American attitudes about the Israel-Palestine conflict.
In 1999, I read Osama bin Laden's writing (in Arabic), namely: It's Muslims obligation to slay America and its allies, civil, military wherever they are. This later influenced some JI members, the anger at America and its allies because the advice was stated by the great mujahid and they respect him, they use his advice as the base to justify their movement without considering the mission of JI. These are the things that affected their minds, and it was implemented by Hambali and his friends in 2000. I just realized what they did was wrong.
What do you think about Osama's words, which make JI members feel sure that their actions are right?
For me, anger is a human characteristic and it's normal. But Islam has certain regulations about how to express anger. The anger toward America and its allies is caused by the solidarity of Muslims. I don't agree with American actions either. About Osama's advice, I don't agree with him. Allah never commands Muslims to slay people randomly. As Allah says: That if any one slew a person-unless it be for murder or for speading mischief in the land- it would be as if he slew the whole people". (Al-Maidah: 32)
So, slaying men without allowed reason is a big sin, and the prophet Muhammad never killed civilians. Slaying people commanded by the prophet Muhammad is just for in a war against the enemy who attacks Muslims. I think what Osama said is not good advice, it is just a statement. It's impossible in the peaceful areas like in Indonesia, they slay women and children. Allah never commands to do something out of mind.
The Bali bomb perpetrators said they have no relation with JI, they did it by themselves. Is this true?
I knew the perpetrators of the 1st Bali bomb, some of them are JI members they also worked with the group from Serang (Imam Samudra's friends). Probably their action has no relation with JI, if they said like that. But they are the members who do the action not based on JI purpose. I know Ali Ghufran or Mukhlas he is my brother in-law. On 2001 he replaced Hambali as the chairman of Mantiqi 1, another source said the same thing. May be they are doing their own thing. JI is meant to conduct Islamic teaching and establish an Islamic state through preaching and education, attacking civilians is not JI's mission.
Do they cooperate with JI when they do the terrorist acts?
I don't know, especially now that I have left JI. Even when I was still in JI, it was a question whether the 1st Bali bomb arranged by JI or just by some of its members.
How about Dr. Azahari, who is suspected as the key figure behind all the bombings in Indonesia, is he a JI member?
I have known Dr. Azahari and Nordin M. Top since I was in Johor Baru, at the time I just became a member of JI. Formally, I am their leader and Mukhlas was my Leader (he was Wakalah chairman in Johor Baru). Structurally, they are JI members under Mantiqi 1 led by Hambali. After Hambali was caught, Nordin and Azahari continued his mission. After the 1st Bali bomb, they continued the actions like the JW. Marriot bomb in 2003 and Kuningan bomb in 2004. They are JI members, but I do not know whether they use the name of JI or not.
After the death of Azahari, do you think it will stop the terror action in Indonesia?
If they still hold Osama's statement, namely to slay America and its allies everywhere, I think Nordin M.Top and the group will not stop as long as they can do it.
What do you think about the book "I Fight the Terrorist" written by Imam Samudra?
On the second part of my book "Force Jamaah Islamiyah" I wrote the counter opinion about his book. He was my student before; I was one of his instructors when we met again in Afghanistan. I know who he is. I found some lies in his book and I wrote about them in my book. He got training in Sada not in Hus, Pakistan. He got military training in a military academy not in an Arabian camp. The worst is when he stated that his action (two bombings in Bali) is right and he invited people to do the same. I wrote in my book " the deviation of Imam Samudra," I stated that the action of Imam Samudra in Bali and all of his ideas are deviation, including in understanding the meaning of jihad and its implementation.
According to you, how to understand the meaning of jihad that suitable for all the countries including Indonesia and Malaysia?
Jihad means intentness, so learning seriously means jihad. While jihad in war zones is jihad meant as qital (war). Jihad, which is done by the prophet Muhammad, is meant to defend religion, nation, and the Islamic state. I'd like to say Indonesia is an Islamic state, because the majority of the population is Muslim and the leaders are also Muslims.
But Indonesia never says that it's an Islamic state, what do you think?
In my opinion Indonesia is an Islamic state, because its leaders are Muslims, most of the community are Muslims and they implement the Islamic teaching. It's just like Malaysia, it's an Islamic state. If the conditions are getting worse as in Iraq, all Muslims have obligation to defend Indonesia, this is jihad, because most of population in the state is Muslim.
Do you think that JI has responsibility to defend a country, which is attacked by another country? Or is it the responsibility of the apparatus in the country?
It doesn't have any relation with police or army with the certain country. JI believe that Indonesia is not an Islamic state as well as Malaysia. But I think Indonesia and Malaysia are Islamic states, this is my personal belief. When I was the member of JI, I though that both are not Islamic states, that's why JI wants to try for it.
Is it possible that JI conduct incorrect method that makes its member doing the terrorism action?
I have explained before, that the radical thinking in JI came from outside, namely Osama bin Laden. Since Indonesia and Malaysia are not Islamic states, JI wants to change them to be Islamic states.
And the people do not want to establish Islamic states, so when JI tries to establish the Islamic state for both countries, does it break the freedom of those countries?
Before I believed that Malaysia and Indonesia are not Islamic states, now I change my mind. We have to obey the government, even though they haven't implemented Islamic teaching. This is my faith, which is different with JI.
After escaping from JI, how do you see the Muslim issues recently? What is your struggle now and how to do it?
At the present I think we need to appreciate the existing government; It can be done by getting close to them and giving contribution about the Islamic state. Why should make a new state? We have a state, we don't need to destroy the existing one. This is the change that happened to me. Before, I think this is not Islamic state, so the effort to change must be done whatever the way.
There is even a more extreme opinion that says such a country is infidel and apostate. I think this should be considered and reinvestigated. In my opinion, the Islamic state is the state with Muslim leaders, and majority population are Muslims. When some of the Islamic teaching has not been implemented, it doesn't mean they do not want to implement it, may be there is certain reason why the Islamic teaching couldn't be implemented.
I don't agree with the idea to overthrow the state and change it into the Islamic state. Just like what happened in Afghanistan, the Mujahidin government was established in 1992 after overthrowing the communist. Then Taliban attacked the Mujahidin in 1994 because they thought the Mujahidin, which was led by Burhanuddin Rabbani (an Islamic bureaucrat) wasn't implementing Islamic teaching. Finally, Taliban gets the authority in 1996.
So, now you are more tolerant and respect the sovereignty of a country?
Right, I don't want the case in Afghanistan to happen in another country.