Terrorist Training Camps

Apr 23rd, 2006, in News, by

The Singapore based Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies held the “International Conference on Terrorism in Southeast Asia: The Threat and Response” last week and herein you will find some of the highlights as they relate to Indonesia.

Dr. Rohan Gunaratna, the Head of the International Center for Political Violence and Terrorism Research (ICPVTR) at the Institute discussed the changing nature of the terrorist threats facing the region, highlighting the presence of Al Qaeda and other jihadi groups.

He said that the terror network in south-east Asia is quite robust, buttressed by outside groups such as Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and strengthened by links with other regional networks.

This “networked terrorism”, he claims, is exacerbated by global events like the Iraq war and occupation which are exploited by local groups to foment unrest. He said that military means alone would not help in eliminating terrorism and comprehensive strategic counter terrorism would have to include an ideological, financial, legislative, media, educational, informatics and developmental response.

He strongly advised that “spiritual” leader of the Jemaah Islamiyah, JI, Abu Bakar Bashir, not be released from prison in June.

Everything must be done to make sure that he is not released.

he was quoted by Reuters as saying (hat tip to Kerry Collison).

He also recommended that JI be banned.

JI has gained very significant strength because it is now working with so many other groups in Indonesia. The Indonesian government must be encouraged to ban JI. JI is still a legal organisation in Indonesia. JI must be criminalised.

He’s wrong on both counts I would say. JI is much weaker now than for a long time. Banning it, perhaps someone could tell me what this would achieve? The members of JI are already being hunted down, many of them have already been arrested, what would formal banning achieve?

In any case he went on to say that JI has a few thousand members in south-east Asia and has training camps in Indonesia and the southern Philippines, which combine to produce 400 to 500 potential terrorists every year.

He also made mention of funding issues, saying that a small amount of the millions of dollars held by private religious funds and relief groups for development projects in poor Muslim communities in the region were diverted to “hatred and violence”.

There are also considerable amounts of money still coming from the Middle East to fund terrorist attacks in Southeast Asia.

3 Comments on “Terrorist Training Camps”

  1. Melissa says:

    I feel that banning JI could possibly go in a positive direction. Criminalizing involvement in this organization will create a stigma among the public and lessen the incentives to join. I feel that the concept of “terrorism” can be somewhat glamorous to certain individuals, especially if they see themselves fighting to the death for a cause they believe in. Moreover, since at the time of this article (I’m not sure exactly what Indonesia’s stance is now about criminalizing JI) the organization was legal, it may lead some to think that participation is okay. But banning it would cast no doubts that the Indonesian government feels that it is wrong.

    Also, to touch on JI’s strength – to me, keeping under the radar would seem like a strategy that a terrorist organization would use in order to avoid detection until the next time they strike. By staying dormant, JI would be able to network with other organizations or find new strategies in which to carry out their operations. I wouldn’t say that they are “much weaker”. It is especially hard to tell since there is little information about the intricacies of JI, such as how many people are in it, what their potential plans might be, etc. This lack of information leads to such ambiguity that on the one hand, it is entirely possible that they have lost power and are much weaker. However, one must not rule out the possibility that they are regrouping, restructuring, or remodeling into stronger organizations.

    I think that it is interesting that Gunaratna says that JI is gaining significant strength because of their work with other organizations, and I feel that it is a valid concern. When terrorist organizations network and work with non-terrorist organizations, such as NGOs or charitable groups, they gain much needed public support and sympathy for their cause. This can pose a serious threat to Indonesia’s state sovereignty, especially if they gain support to the extent that the Indonesian government loses power over the people in a given area. Also, since Indonesia is not one giant land mass, but instead a chain of islands, I could only imagine that it would already be somewhat of a challenge to create unity.

    I would agree with Gunaratna’s assertion that JI should be banned. As long as it is legal, it will be legitimate, and the Indonesian government will not have a fun time trying to control terrorist activities. I feel that illegitimizing terrorist groups is a step forward in subduing terrorism. Obviously, more measures should be taken to ensure that they cannot operate, but as a starting point, banning them could be very effective.

  2. Odinius says:

    Gunaratna has made a number of questionable claims about JI over the years, all of which serve to make the organization look more powerful and frightening than it ever has been.

    The assertion that there is, for example, a network of JI “training camps” in Indonesia and the Philippines is highly dubious. One thing we’ve learned over the years is how small the militant wing of JI is. This is why it was so difficult for the police to infiltrate the organization. We also know that several previous claims about “training camps” by intelligence officials turned out to be exaggerated, yet neatly coincided with debates over whether to restore funding for Indonesian security forces in foreign capitals (coincidence? You decide).

    The idea that it was “gaining strength” as an organization in 2006 is another one. Yes, Noordin did organize a small group of bombers, and carry out a bombing successfully, but this was one, highly organized cell–which was smashed in the bombing’s aftermath. Where’s the evidence that there’s any other cells left? As I understand it, the remnants of JI are lodged in a small number of radical pesantren, and committed to the da’wa approach.

    Though his argument about banning JI may still be valid, I’d suggest taking his arguments for banning JI with large grains of garam laut.

  3. Melissa says:

    That’s an interesting way to look at it. I’m new to exploring terrorism studies, I definitely wouldn’t have thought that JI is as small as you say it is.
    Is JI the only terrorist group in Indonesia that has made a significant impact? I would think that a militant organization such as JI would undermine Indonesia’s state authority, especially since Indonesia is not one big land mass, it would be easier for JI to undermine state authority over the territories. Or does Indonesia just do a really good job at introducing strategies that lets it keep its territorial integrity?
    Also, in July 2009 who was it that bombed the Ritz Carlton the day before Manchester United was supposed to come? Was he part of JI or was he working solo?

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