The Islamic State (IS) is beginning to shift its focus towards Southeast Asia after losses on the battlefield in Syria and Iraq.
From reports, it seems a growing number of Indonesians are becoming radicalised through extensive propaganda and by joining the IS and other terrorist organisations across the Middle East. It’s about time the government steps up to combat the growing security threat.
The Soufan Group, an organisation that provides intelligence services, released a report on foreign fighters in Syria in December 2015. According to the report, 500 Indonesians had left the country to join terrorists organisations in Syria, lower than the government estimate of 700 in November 2015.
But the biggest worry isn’t who departs, but who decides to return.
At the time of the study, 162 Indonesian foreign fighters had returned home. Over 100 were unable to make the journey after getting deported from Turkey, while others voluntarily chose to return to Indonesia after not getting paid.
The IS began targeting Indonesians and Malaysians with propaganda in July 2014, which persuaded people to join the organisation.
After previously fighting alongside Central Asians, there were now enough Malay-speaking foreign fighters to create a separate military unit within the IS, which became known as the Katibah Nusanara. If Southeast Asians continue to play an important role in the organisation, they will be able to redirect the IS towards the region, leading to further attacks and heightened recruitment.
Another problem is the continued threat of extremist forms of Islam within Indonesia.
The IS once used Saudi Arabian textbooks to guide its followers, many of which were based on the conservative strain of Islam known as Wahhabism. Riyadh also exported the ideology to Indonesia through funding mosques and educational centres. Many students are pushed into the extremist ideology by failing to have sufficient funds to attend a public school, instead opting for the relatively cheaper Saudi-funded schools that offer a strict Islamic education. Wahhabism has therefore been able to infiltrate into the country’s religious fabric, which played a secondary role in turning Indonesians into foreign fighters.
But the main problem, of course, are the marginalised students who are unable to attend public schools due to costs.
Many Indonesians have joined the IS and other organisations out of a misplaced desire to become a good Muslim.
Propaganda has portrayed radical Islam as the most pure form of Islam and many grew romanticised ideas about a caliphate. Almost half of these Indonesians were recruited while already in the Middle East on student visas. And when these former students return to Indonesia, the threat will multiply.
After the IS claimed responsibility for the attack in Jakarta in January 2016, the risk posed by radical Islam came to surface.
The chief of police in Indonesia claimed the rise of terrorist attacks in 2016 is attributable to the IS, which doubled from the year prior. A total of 170 terror suspects were processed in 2016 alone.
Indonesia may have the largest Muslim population in the world, but a comparatively small amount of its citizens have become foreign fighters.
For a number of reasons, however, there is a need to mitigate the threat before it comes disproportionate to government capability.
Foreign fighters will continue to threaten national security in coming years, unless the government takes action.