By: Chris Stillwell ‘15
The Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) is the largest terrorist organization in Indonesia, and is also active in other Southeast Asian countries including Malaysia, the Philippines, and Singapore. The organization uses terrorism to promote an extreme Islamic agenda and has links to Al Qaeda. JI has been linked to terrorist plots by an alleged al-Qaeda operative recently captured in Indonesia and turned over to the CIA in 2005. Indonesia does recognize that there is an al-Qaeda presence within its borders. JI operational capacity has declined significantly over the past decade, after significant attention from conducting several high profile terrorist attacks in the early 2000s. Despite substantial losses, Jemaah Islamiyah still remains an active terrorist organization in Southeast Asia and is, therefore, an important organization to dissect, of legitimate concern for world security.
Background History of Jemaah Islamiyah
The organization’s goal is to establish an Islamic state in Southeast Asia. JI’s charter and operating manual, the “General Guide for the Struggle of Al-Jama’ah Al-Islamiyah (PUPJI), outlines JI’s primary objectives, which are establishing a support base of followers, creating an Islamic state in Indonesia, and eventually expanding to include all of Southeast Asia. In order to accomplish its mission, the organization has been conducting terrorist attacks since 1999, and has since expanded to Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, Australia, Thailand, and Pakistan. Unsurprisingly, JI is only supportive of Muslim communities and is very critical of other religious communities within its area of operations. JI’s roots can be traced to Darul Islam, a radical anti-colonialist movement in 1940s Indonesia. In 1949, Darul Islam, now a recognized terrorist organization, helped fight for the Netherlands to recognize Indonesia’s independence. However, in 1985, small factions fled to Malaysia to eventually regroup and rebrand as Jemaah Islamiyah. On January 1st, 1993, Abu Bakar Baasyir and Abdullah Sungkar officially founded JI in Malaysia. In 1998 JI moved to Indonesia.[i]
JI’s Low membership and its lack of operations helped kept counterterrorism agencies at bay until 2001. JI leaders adopted principles of Darul Islam to maintain a low profile in order to avoid government retaliation. It wasn’t until JI killed hundreds of civilians in the Bali bombings on October 12, 2002 that the U.S. State Department and the United Nations designated Jemaah Islamiyah as a foreign terrorist organization.[ii] Prior to the first Bali bombing, the threat of Jemaah Islamiyah was widely underestimated and overlooked. Recently, most of Jemaah Islamiyah prominent figures have either been captured or killed, predominantly by the Indonesian anti-terrorist squad, Detachment 88.
The Amir, or supreme leader, leads JI. Underneath the Amir is the regional syura, a consultative council of senior JI members. The Amir and his syura lead four major territorial divisions, or mantiqi. Mantiqi I covers Malaysia and Singapore; Mantiqi II covers Indonesia except for Sulawesi; Mantiqi III covers the Philippines, eastern Malaysia, Sulawesi, and eastern Kalimantan; and Mantiqi IV covers Australia. JI originally designated Mantiqis I and IV to be responsible for fund-raising, Mantiqi III for training, and Mantiqi II to be its operational wing.[iii]
Within the Mantiqi, JI operates using the traditional terrorist cell structure. JI cells are composed of four to five members. However, inside each cell is a tier system. The leaders of the cells are typically students of JI founders or veterans of the Soviet-Afghan war. The second tier is composed of field coordinators who organize missions, gather supplies, and choose a team to serve underneath them. The bottom tier is composed of “foot soldiers” that are chosen right before the start of a mission. They are typically young men who are educated in Islamic schools with ties to Darul Islam.[iv]
JI dates back to the 1960s when its co-founders Abu Bakar Baasyir and Abdullah Sungkar, two radical Muslim clerics, believed in bringing sharia law to Indonesia. Two of their closest associates, Riduan Isamuddin (Hambali) and Mohammed Iqbal Rahman (Abu Jibril), both of whom fought in the mujahidin (Afghan guerilla warfare fighters) and were recruited into al-Qaeda, were instructed to establish a network of cells across Southeast Asia beginning in 1994. Following the death of Sungkar in 1998, Baasyir assumed the position of leader of JI. Today, because of numerous arrests and deaths within the administrative structure of JI, the current leader of JI is also the leader of Mantiqi II, Nuaim alias Abu Irsyad.
The JI leadership has eroded over the years with the death and arrest of several important leaders of JI. The arrest of Baasyir in 2003 caused Mantiqi I to officially denounce him as the operational leader of JI. Other JI groups have also designated Baasyir as the spiritual leader of JI instead of its actual leader. Logistics chief, Riduan Isamuddin, also known as Hambali, was arrested in Thailand in 2003 and is now in U.S. custody in Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp. In September 2009, Indonesian officials confirmed the death of senior JI member Noordin Mohamed Top. Top was the bomb maker in both the 2003 JW Marriott Hotel and the 2004 Australian embassy attacks.[v]
Internal disagreements and loss in manpower have created a leadership deficit within JI. The organization has become decentralized with no clear leader. This both helps and hurts counterterrorism efforts against JI. With no clear leadership JI is weak and unable to successfully organize missions or combat counterterrorism efforts against the organization. However, because it is decentralized each Mantiqi and cell can operate independently, which makes it increasingly difficult to combat the organization as a whole.
Despite international efforts to freeze the assets of terrorist organizations, JI still is able to fund its operations. Funds for JI operations come from funds skimmed from Islamic charities, contributions from JI’s own members, outside supporters, Al Qaeda investments and accounts already established in the region, and proceeds from petty crime, racketeering, extortion, gun-running, and kidnapping.[vi] JI has been increasingly dependent on al-Qaeda funding since 2000 due to increased arrests of JI members. Over the years al-Qaeda has also provided JI with advisors to assist with operational planning.
Even though JI has been reduced to less than one thousand members[vii], it can still function as a successful terrorist organization thanks to al-Qaeda support in terms of training, equipment, and finance. Without the backing of al-Qaeda, JI would not be able to function as a credible terrorist organization. In fact, JI would have collapsed years ago if it were not for al-Qaeda advisors and its increased funding of JI operations. If Jemaah Islamiyah lost its funding from al-Qaeda, the organization would fail to mount any successful operations, much less any operations at all.
By relying on cell structure to enhance its operational security, JI communications are both reliable and secure. With cell structures, it is often the case that other cells are not aware of or in contact with each other. Operational cells coordinate with special communication cells that relay information to other cells. The most basic form of communication within JI is face-to-face, with a heavy reliance on couriers. The Internet and cell phones have been particularly useful modern equipment that JI use to communicate with one another. Also, like most intelligence organizations, JI uses code words when communicating in order to protect messages. Code words are a necessary step for any contemporary organization as counterterrorism agencies can easily intercept messages using modern communication methods.
Training is an important part in preparing JI members for operations and their role within the organization. Because JI is a radical Islamic organization, religious study is very important in training new members. JI members also receive firearms and weapons training that apply to their future operations. Target surveillance and other intelligence methods are taught to new members in order for them to operate stealthily in the future.[viii]
JI has used Al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan, MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front) camps in the southern Philippines, and jihadist camps in Indonesia and Malaysia to train its new members.[ix] In Afghani camps, JI members were able to learn terrorism skills from al-Qaeda trainers. However, over time it became increasingly expensive and risky to send JI members abroad. With the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, al-Qaeda lost many of its training camps and allied terrorist organizations, like JI, were encouraged to set up their own bases in their operational areas. The MILF camps in the Philippines were a joint training facility set up by MILF and JI that consisted of a rigorous eighteen-month training program. In the mid 2000s, the Philippine Army overran and closed down the facility. JI’s smaller bases in Malaysia and Indonesia cannot effectively train recruits in terrorism operations. Most training camps are small and do not conduct firearm and bomb training to avoid attracting any attention. The only exception was the training camp at Aceh, which was captured by Indonesian Counterterrorism forces in the mid 2000s. [x]
The training of new JI recruits has been very minimal and not as effective as it was one decade ago. Joint training bases and collaboration efforts with other terrorist organizations were a huge asset for JI. They provided JI with necessary contacts and skills needed to conduct large-scale operations, as well as reinforce radical Islamic ideology training. Increased counterterrorism efforts against training camps have made it almost impossible to set up camps within nations that recognize JI as a terrorist organization.
Historical Terrorist Operations
Jemaah Islamiyah has been responsible for several high profile attacks over the past decade. JI personnel conducted the 2002 attacks in Bali nightclubs (202 deaths), the 2003 car bombing at JW Marriott Hotel in Jakarta (12 deaths), the 2004 truck bombing of Australian Embassy (11 deaths), and the 2005 suicide bombing at hotels in Jakarta.[xi] JI is also responsible for bombing the Jakarta Hotels in 2009, killing nine and injuring forty people. In effect this was the last major terrorist attack by JI.[xii]
One of the features that defines JI is its willingness and ability to undertake major bombing operations. It is very effective at using bombs to complete its objectives in destroying western tourist locations. Bomb making is a specialty of JI, and the organization relies heavily on its bomb makers. However, thanks to increased counterterrorism efforts against JI, JI’s underground existence has made bomb development difficult.
JI’s operational capacity has been hurt by its high profile terrorist activities and the international attention it has garnered, especially since the Bali attacks. Local support for JI has diminished after it consistently targeted civilians. JI’s increased violence was matched with increased government efforts to combat terrorism, severely limiting JI’s operations.
Arrests, in particular, have plagued JI operations in the past decade. In late 2001, JI cells in Singapore partnered with al-Qaeda to attack multiple important foreign institutions. The U.S. embassy, Israeli Embassy, and naval facilities used by the U.S. Navy were the prime targets.[xiii] Before the start of the operation, the Singapore Internal Security Department arrested several JI members involved in the plot, forcing JI and al-Qaeda to abandon the operation. Even though the Singapore Internal Security Department was unaware of the plot, the loss of personnel was enough to prevent a possible threat.
Considering the small size of JI cells, major arrests like the one in Singapore pose a major challenge to the organization. Operations are heavily based on limited personnel that cannot be replaced.
Although JI is known predominately for using bombs in its terrorist operations, it does not often use suicide bombers. However, unlike its other operations, the Bali bombings of 2002, the Australian Embassy bombing, and the JW Marriott Hotel bombing all display evidence that suicide bombers were used.[xiv] This is interesting because these three operations are known as JI’s most successful terrorist attacks, but were conducted quite differently than that of previous and future attacks. All three operations involved vans loaded with explosives that would drive into their targets and be remotely detonated by the JI operation leader. It is not clear why JI decided to change its strategy just for these three attacks. In the past, JI had placed timed bombs at target locations and did not sacrifice any of its members. Many attacks after these three bombings also did not use suicide bombers. The reason for this could be that JI can no longer risk losing more members. During these three attacks JI was at the height of its membership with around 5,000 members in Southeast Asia.[xv] All these of these attacks also did not involve any direct al-Qaeda assistance. Despite the decline in JI activity, JI has been able to conduct its own terrorist operations successfully. In the future, if JI was ever to lose al-Qaeda support, it can be presumed that JI could still operate on its own. While JI operations would be severely crippled it still would pose a serious threat in Southeast Asia.
JI still remains a serious threat in Southeast Asia, specifically Indonesia. Since 2009, however, JI has been less effective, with its members scattered among other groups around the region. The recent arrests of key operational leaders have fractured JI, leaving some smaller groups unable to carry out consistent attacks, while other splinter groups have rejected violence. Other factions have also been forced into hiding to prevent capture from counterterrorism forces.[xvi]
The main JI group, Mantiqi II, has changed its strategy from carrying out large, spectacular attacks against foreigners (such as the 2002 Bali bombings) to conducting more precise attacks against locally significant targets. The de facto Amir of JI, Baasyir, supports the idea of dakwah, or religious outreach, to rebuild its base and suspend major terrorist attacks.[xvii] JI’s leaders say they remain as committed to jihad as ever, but that there is no point in martyrdom operations against a much stronger enemy. Mujahidin, they say, need to build up their strength first through training and education and generate community support for jihad through dakwah.[xviii]
The collapse of the other Mantiqis besides Mantiqi II has redistricted JI’s abilities to travel easily within Southeast Asia. Mantiqi I contained the key leaders and strategists for JI and its dissolution in 2002 was a major blow to JI’s operational capacity. Australian forces, due to its strong counterterrorism institutions, have successfully dismantled Mantiqi IV. Mantiqi III has been reduced to a fraction of its former size due to Philippine Army operations, and its remaining members seem only concerned with operating within the Philippines. The collapse of JI’s Mantiqi structure will severely hurt JI’s operational capabilities in the future. In fact, without a strong operational area in Southeast Asia, JI will only be able to conduct terrorist attacks within a small region in Indonesia.
Other factions under the command of Hambali and Mukhals remain committed to conducting direct terrorist attacks. It is not surprising that members of this faction were the primary participants in the Bali bombings and other previous large scale attacks. It is apparent that they still believe JI can conduct large-scale operations despite high losses of personnel. They believe that terrorist attacks are the only way to establish an Islamic caliphate in Southeast Asia.[xix]
However, on the whole, operational capacity and consistency across groups remain weak. The splits within JI mean that the group is not operating under a single strategy. Arrests plague JI, and few skilled bomb makers and operators remain. The decline of al -Qaeda resulted in loss of training facilities and safe havens for JI members, as well as tactical knowledge and funding previously provided to JI. JI was not the threat it once was. It lacks leadership and a substantial membership base. Its main ally, al-Qaeda is also very weak, thus affecting its allies abroad.
Recruitment of new members and public support has also decreased over the past decade for JI. The Indonesian people reacted very strongly against the Bali bombings in 2002 and subsequent attacks. In a 2006 poll, 78 percent of respondents believed that the death penalty for the Bali bombers was just.[xx] Without the support of local communities, JI will be unable to recruit new members committed to the radical Islamic cause. It also makes it extremely difficult for JI to operate in areas with no support and allies. Local communities are more inclined today to report JI activities and bases to counterterrorism officials. JI recognizes this to some degree and therefore, has begun its move towards dakwah, through which it hopes to improve recruitment and tactical operations.
Counterterrorism Operations against Jemaah Islamiyah
Counterterrorism agencies over the past decade have been very successful in combating Jemaah Islamiyah operations. The radical Indonesian cleric and leader of JI, Abu Bakar Bashir, was arrested shortly after the Bali bombings in 2002. He was found guilty in 2005 and sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison.
Indonesia has made significant gains in combating JI operations. According to the State Department’s 2004 Country Reports on Terrorism, Indonesian officials are responsible for arresting dozens of JI leaders, former instructors at JI training camps, and financers of the attacks.[xxi] Before the Bali bombings only two JI leaders were arrested, showing how little attention Indonesia paid to JI. The speedy arrests of JI members after the Bali bombings have greatly damaged JI leadership. Baasyir himself was arrested only three weeks after the Bail bombings, and his temporary successor was arrested five months after that. On March 9th 2010, raids in Pamulang, outside of Jakarta, resulted in the death of a high-ranking JI terrorist and two of his bodyguards. On March 12th, police in Aceh killed two more JI leaders involved in the Aceh training camp.[xxii] Since the Bali bombing in 2002, prosecutors and courts have convicted more than 100 members of JI on terrorism charges. After the Indonesian government’s discovery of the JI Aceh training camp, many senior JI leaders have either been arrested or killed, dealing a huge blow to JI in Indonesia.[xxiii]
Since 9/11, the United States has been working with Southeast nations to combat terrorism. Joint training operations, funding, and intelligence sharing helps Southeast nations combat terrorism, thus affecting JI’s ability to function as a successful organization. Annually, Indonesia receives about 40 million in US anti-terrorism funding.[xxiv] 466 JI members have been arrested since 2002 and those responsible for subsequent attacks were speedily apprehended.[xxv] The number of JI members arrested by counterterrorism officials greatly outweighs the number of new members JI has been able to recruit. With the increase in counterterrorism operations against JI, it has been increasingly difficult for the organization to function as it did in the past.
JI still remains a formidable threat in many Southeast Asian countries. While it has conducted relatively no terrorist attacks since 2009, JI is still rebuilding its base and preparing itself for future operations.
With JI’s new commitment to dakwah, it could transform itself into a legitimate social and political organization similar to Hezbollah. Despite its decline in operational capacity, JI still maintains many connections and influence over other groups. JI could also build its reputation with local communities and overcome its negative reputation in Southeast Asia. By finding an alternative to violence, JI could be considered active in a political struggle of failing nations. A change in public opinion towards JI could be very dangerous to the current enemies of JI and the nations in which JI operates within. Internally, however, JI could face issues if it participated in political institutions because some members may feel such action would legitimize the institutions and thus discredit JI’s notion that an Islamic caliphate is the only acceptable national model. A further divided JI would cripple any possibility for conducting future terrorist operations.
Counterterrorism operations pose a huge threat to the growth and existence of JI. With countries increasing their funding of counterterrorism agencies, JI operations will surely be affected. Currently, counterterrorism agencies are combating terrorism more efficiently than JI is able to conduct terrorist attacks. With increased arrests, JI has lost a considerable amount of its membership including valuable leaders. JI will be unable to exist as a terrorist organization if it does not change it current structure, operational strategy, or goals. Without a significant change in either area JI will continue to be inefficient in conducting terrorist attacks and will never complete its core mission.
JI has shown in the past that it is able to rise from the ashes. JI has proven to adapt before; many thought that JI’s 2005 terrorist attack would be its last, due to the fact it conducted zero terrorist operations from 2006 to 2008. However, in 2009 JI was able to conduct another successful terrorist attack, exhibiting its potential to rebuild itself once again.
Whatever course JI takes in the future, its organizational effectiveness will be strongly influenced by its operational learning capabilities, since it will be functioning in a much more challenging counterterrorism environment than one decade ago. JI needs to learn from both their failures and successes. Whether it can accomplish this will be dependent on its future leadership, if even established.
Overall, JI is not in an ideal position to continue successfully as a terrorist organization. With its members divided, it will not be able to accomplish large-scale terrorist attacks like it did one decade ago. The feebleness of its allies like al-Qaeda weakens JI’s ability to train and fund its operations, as well as operate successfully within Southeast Asia. Increased counterterrorism operations cripple JI’s membership and operational capability. The JI faction moving towards dakwah might help JI continue to exist as an organization, but at the same time it could splinter the entire structure of JI. JI is not the threat it once was. While there is still a possibility that JI could rebuild itself, it is highly unlikely that JI will be able to conduct successful and large-scale terrorist attacks in the future.
About the author:
Chris Stillwell is a senior at the Elliott School of International Affairs. Chris studied abroad in Beijing and India during high school; this past summer he studied international economics in Shanghai. He serves as the Director of Finance of the International Affairs Society and as a Senator in the Student Association Senate representing the undergrad population. In addition to his involvement on campus, he is a cadet in Army ROTC, where upon graduation in May he will commission as a Military Intelligence Officer.
[i] Barley, Brek. “The complexities of dealing with radical Islam in Southeast Asia: a case study of Jemaah Islamiyah.” Canberra: Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, Australian National University, 2003.
[ii] “Indonesia: A Closer Look At Jemaah Islamiyah.” Stratfor Analysis (2009): 30.
[iii] Jackson, Brian A., John C. Baker, Peter Chalk, Kim Cragin, John V. Parachini and Horacio R. Trujillo. Aptitude for Destruction, Volume 2: Case Studies of Organizational Learning in Five Terrorist Groups. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2005.
[iv] “Indonesia: A Closer Look At Jemaah Islamiyah.” Stratfor Analysis (2009): 30.
[v] “Profile: Jemaah Islamiah.” BBC News. BBC, 02 Feb. 2012. Web. <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-16850706>.
[vi] Abuza, Zachary. The National Bureau of Asian Research 14.5 (2003)
[vii] “Indonesia: A Closer Look At Jemaah Islamiyah.” Stratfor Analysis (2009): 30.
[viii] Jackson, Brian A., John C. Baker, Peter Chalk, Kim Cragin, John V. Parachini and Horacio R. Trujillo. Aptitude for Destruction, Volume 2: Case Studies of Organizational Learning in Five Terrorist Groups. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2005.
[ix] Oak, Gillian S. “Jemaah Islamiyah’s Fifth Phase: The Many Faces Of A Terrorist Group.” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism 33.11 (2010): 989-1018.
[x] Jones, Sidney. 2011. “THE ONGOING EXTREMIST THREAT IN INDONESIA.” Southeast Asian Affairs 91-105.
[xi] Jackson, Brian A., John C. Baker, Peter Chalk, Kim Cragin, John V. Parachini and Horacio R. Trujillo. Aptitude for Destruction, Volume 2: Case Studies of Organizational Learning in Five Terrorist Groups. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2005.
[xii] Jones, Sidney. 2011. “THE ONGOING EXTREMIST THREAT IN INDONESIA.” Southeast Asian Affairs 91-105.
[xiii] Jackson, Brian A., John C. Baker, Peter Chalk, Kim Cragin, John V. Parachini and Horacio R. Trujillo. Aptitude for Destruction, Volume 2: Case Studies of Organizational Learning in Five Terrorist Groups. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2005.
[xiv] Jackson, Brian A., John C. Baker, Peter Chalk, Kim Cragin, John V. Parachini and Horacio R. Trujillo. Aptitude for Destruction, Volume 2: Case Studies of Organizational Learning in Five Terrorist Groups. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2005.
[xv] Oak, Gillian S. “Jemaah Islamiyah’s Fifth Phase: The Many Faces Of A Terrorist Group.” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism 33.11 (2010): 989-1018.
[xvi] Jackson, Brian A., John C. Baker, Peter Chalk, Kim Cragin, John V. Parachini and Horacio R. Trujillo. Aptitude for Destruction, Volume 2: Case Studies of Organizational Learning in Five Terrorist Groups. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2005.
[xvii] Hastings, Justin V. “Geography, Globalization, and Terrorism: The Plots of Jemaah Islamiyah.” Security Studies 17.3 (2008): 505-530.
[xviii] Oak, Gillian S. “Jemaah Islamiyah’s Fifth Phase: The Many Faces Of A Terrorist Group.” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism 33.11 (2010): 989-1018.
[xix] “Indonesia: A Closer Look At Jemaah Islamiyah.” Stratfor Analysis (2009): 30.
[xx] Jackson, Brian A., John C. Baker, Peter Chalk, Kim Cragin, John V. Parachini and Horacio R. Trujillo. Aptitude for Destruction, Volume 2: Case Studies of Organizational Learning in Five Terrorist Groups. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2005.
[xxi] “Country Reports on Terrorism 2004.” US Department of State, Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism. Web. <http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/45313.pdf>
[xxii] “Indonesia: A Closer Look At Jemaah Islamiyah.” Stratfor Analysis (2009): 30.
[xxiii] Jackson, Brian A., John C. Baker, Peter Chalk, Kim Cragin, John V. Parachini and Horacio R. Trujillo. Aptitude for Destruction, Volume 2: Case Studies of Organizational Learning in Five Terrorist Groups. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2005.
[xxiv] Peter Chalk, “Island Finance—US Aid Tackles Terrorism in Southeast Asia” (Jane’s Intelligence Review, 24 October 2008)
[xxv] Jackson, Brian A., John C. Baker, Peter Chalk, Kim Cragin, John V. Parachini and Horacio R. Trujillo. Aptitude for Destruction, Volume 2: Case Studies of Organizational Learning in Five Terrorist Groups. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2005.