Corruption, incompetence, complacency – how Indonesia fights terrorism

A new study by the International Crisis Group has praised Indonesia for breaking up an Al-Qaeda-style terrorist group which was “discovered” (actually its activities had been known for some time) conducting military and bomb-making training in Aceh province in February. Almost 50 members have been arrested and eight killed, including Bali 2002 mastermind Dulmatin, who was shot by police has he browsed Google news in an Internet cafe in March. Several more are on the run and the ICG warns they could still form a “third wave” of homegrown Indonesian terrorism, after the killing in September of cell leader Noordin Mohammed Top and the change of focus of regional extremist network Jemaah Islamiyah away from spectacular attacks.

This is not scaremongering by a Western think tank. The ICG is the best in the business, at least in Indonesia, and its regional security analyst, Sidney Jones, is generally positive about Indonesia’s “soft approach” to the fight against hate-filled Islamist lunatics. So when she warns that corruption, complacency and incompetence are undermining the cause, Indonesians should listen.

Her chief concerns include intelligence failures that allowed dangerous terrorists like Dulmatin to re-enter Indonesia from the Philippines, corruption and sheer stupidity of prison guards which allowed jailed militants to network and strategize behind bars, corrupt cops who sold weapons to the terrorists and  document forging “syndicates” linked to government departments.

For all the progress that has been made in the last decade in understanding extremist networks and sharing information across the region about them, the ability to detect their activities remains weak. That Dulmatin, one of the region’s most wanted terrorists, could leave the Philippines, arrive in Indonesia and live in Jakarta for at least two years without anyone being the wiser suggests that there is still some way to go in improving basic information gathering and analysis. Much is being done in this regard: database systems of law enforcement agencies are improving, for example, and border security has been tightened in many places. But if it is true that Dulmatin was in contact from the beginning with Urwah and Ubaid, two men who should have been under the tightest surveillance following their release in mid-2007, or that the Acehnese provincial police were aware of extremist groups in Aceh long before the raids began in late February but did not get that information to Jakarta or were otherwise unable to act on it, then there are still major gaps in the system.

I hope dizzy optimists like Trade Minister Mari Pangestu take some time out of their silly daydreams to read this report and get real.

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