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Australian Government - Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Advancing the interests of Australia and Australians internationally

Australian Government - Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Advancing the interests of Australia and Australians internationally

Transnational Terrorism: The Threat to Australia

Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, 2004

ISBN 1 920959 04 1

Chapter 4


Islam in South-East Asia

Islam in South-East Asia is predominantly moderate and tolerant. We need to understand the evolution of Muslim extremist terrorist groups in the region in that context. Islam arrived in South-East Asia peaceably, carried to the region in the thirteenth century by Muslim traders from South Asia and the Middle East. Over several centuries, as the religion spread across South-East Asia, it incorporated and adapted elements of pre-existing cultural and spiritual beliefs and traditions.

Reflecting its peaceful evolution, South-East Asian Islam has been traditionally open-minded and accepting of cultural diversity.

Petronas Twin Towers

The architecture of the Petronas Twin Towers, the centrepiece of modern Kuala Lumpur, reflects Islamic geometric designs. The Asy-Syakirin Mosque can be seen in the foreground

(Photo: Manfred Leiter)

Every country in South-East Asia has a Muslim community - from five per cent of the population in the Philippines to around 90 per cent in Indonesia. Within these Muslim communities, Islamic identity or affiliation has grown in recent decades, in line with a global phenomenon. There is a greater observance of Islamic practices and dress codes, particularly among young Muslims. And Islamic organisations have become increasingly prominent and active on university campuses and in politics more generally.

Children in Solo

Children in Solo, Central Java, Indonesia

(Picture: El Perkin)

Muslim political and social organisations play a positive role in the countries of the region. Indonesia's two largest Muslim organisations, Muhammadiyah and Nahdlatul Ulama, were central to the successful transition to democracy. They play critical roles in providing welfare and education to their fellow citizens. Both organisations are firmly opposed to terrorism. They expressed support for Indonesia's new anti-terrorism decrees in the wake of the Bali bombings.

The vast majority of South-East Asia's Muslims represent tolerant, mainstream Islam. In parliamentary elections in both Indonesia and Malaysia in 2004, Muslim political parties advocating a moderate and tolerant message outperformed those advocating a narrow conservative interpretation of Islam.

It is important to recognise that support for political Islam or a growth in Muslim piety does not translate into a greater likelihood of Muslim extremism and militancy.

An increase in identification with Islam should not be confused with the emergence of terrorist groups such as Jemaah Islamiyah, which was responsible for the Bali attack. Bali bomber Amrozi no more represents the views of the majority of Muslims in South-East Asia than Usama Bin Laden represents the majority of Muslims in the Arab world.

The vast majority of the population of South-East Asia rejects not only the callous violence of terrorist groups but also their goals and ideology.

Evolution of militancy - fusing local and international agendas

Terrorist tactics are not new in South-East Asia. Nor are they limited to a particular religious or ethnic group.

Militant separatist movements in South-East Asia since the 1940s have had a range of ethnic, political and religious motivations. And violence against civilians has been perpetrated by followers of a variety of political ideologies and religious faiths. Almost every armed nationalist and communist movement in the region has had such tactics in its repertoire. Across the region, militant sub-national groups have over past decades used terrorist attacks to advance their separatist, ethnic or religious interests.

But the emergence of systematically applied terrorism, associated with a virulent form of extremist Muslim ideology, has transformed terrorist attacks in South-East Asia. A seldom- chosen tactic has become an integral - even primary - choice for interconnected groups. Muslim militancy is not a new phenomenon in South-East Asia. In the post-colonial era, militant Muslim separatist groups formed in countries where Muslims are in the minority - Burma, the Philippines, Thailand - to fight for autonomy from national governments.

In Indonesia, where Muslims make up the majority, Muslim militancy has been driven by two goals - to establish an Islamic state, governed by a rigid and doctrinaire interpretation of Islamic law, and to redress economic and political grievances.

A number of South-East Asian Muslim separatist groups have been prepared to use violence or terrorism against their governments. The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Abu Sayyaf Group continue to operate in the Philippines. The Pattani United Liberation Organisation (PULO) is active in Thailand, and the Rohingya Solidarity Organisation in Burma.

These groups are not primarily anti-Western. Rather, they have had long-standing disputes with national governments based on local socio-political and economic grievances. But Muslim militancy in the region has undergone a dramatic evolution over the past decade. The historical grievances of radical Muslim groups were local in nature. Now, the predominant terrorist threat in South-East Asia is transnational. It draws inspiration and support both from other South-East Asian militant groups and from outside the region.

A volatile fusion of local and international agendas has emerged. Most troubling of all, for some extremist militants, terrorist attacks have become an acceptable part of their strategy. And terrorist attacks have become more lethal, more frequent, more widespread and more focused on targeting Western interests.

Jemaah Islamiyah exemplifies the evolution of Muslim militancy in South-East Asia. It has links to Al Qaida and is strongly influenced by Usama Bin Laden's terrorist ideology and methodology. The threat posed by Jemaah Islamiyah is compounded by its development as a network that ignores national boundaries. It stretches over several regional countries. It has formed links with existing extremist Muslim groups to further its own goals.

In the southern Philippines, elements of local militant Muslim insurgency groups, the MILF and the Abu Sayyaf Group, have established links with Jemaah Islamiyah and to some extent with Al Qaida. Links with elements of the MILF are very important to Jemaah Islamiyah. They give Jemaah Islamiyah access to training camps in Mindanao and a ready- made insurgency to give new recruits combat experience.

Dangerous sub-national groups, who can or want to use terrorism to further their causes, are also present in South-East Asia. Mujahidin KOMPAK, Laskar Jihad (supposedly disbanded) and Laskar Jundullah in Indonesia, and the Malaysian Militant Group (Kumpulan Militan Malaysia - KMM) started out with the ostensible aim of promoting the interests of political Islam. Their transition to more violent methods resulted from their greater identification with, and links to, other radical Muslim movements in the region, in South Asia and in the Middle East.

Driving the increase in terrorist activity in our region has been the exposure of South-East Asian militants to the thinking of Middle Eastern Muslim extremists. That includes the latter's message that terrorism is acceptable. Again, Afghanistan was the crucible. The most significant transmission of extremist ideology and military skills to South-East Asian militants took place in the 1980s, with their participation in the war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan.

Origins of the transnational agenda: the Afghanistan connection

South-East Asian extremism took a leap forward when militant Muslim groups - including the leaders of Jemaah Islamiyah - decided to send recruits to training camps in Afghanistan and in Pakistan from the mid-1980s. Their aim was to support their co-religionists in the fight against the Soviet Union.

The Soviet forces left Afghanistan by 1989. But the concept of militant jihad - in this case, a multinational armed struggle by Muslim believers - did not end with their departure. The Soviet - Afghanistan experience was a catalyst for radical activity in South-East Asia. There is an Afghanistan connection to many South-East Asian Muslim militant groups. Up to 1000 South-East Asian Muslims are believed to have received military training with the Afghan mujahideen in the 1980s. In some cases this included battlefield experience. Key leaders of radical Muslim groups in the region are all veterans of the Soviet - Afghan war. They include Jemaah Islamiyah key operative Hambali, Abu Sayyaf Group leaders Khaddafy and Abdurajak Janjalani (now dead), and others.

In the camps in Afghanistan, South-East Asian volunteers were infused with a sense of brotherhood and common cause with those undertaking or supporting militant jihad from other parts of the Muslim world. They were introduced to more advanced terrorist and militant ideology and techniques. They brought them back to South-East Asia and passed them on at training camps in our region.

The returnees formed a natural, transnational network in South-East Asia that is now extensive and well entrenched. This network is at the heart of the terrorist threat in South- East Asia today.

Education and advanced technology

Other external forces are at work to spread extremism in South-East Asia. A significant number of young South-East Asians are studying at religious schools, or madrassas, in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Yemen. They have been influenced by some of the more doctrinaire versions of Islam - particularly the closely-related Salafi and Wahhabi streams. The financial power of Saudi Arabia has also helped promote Wahhabism in South-East Asia through the funding of educational institutions.

Many South Asian and Middle Eastern madrassas teach only a rigid and doctrinaire interpretation of the Quran, with a strong emphasis on militant jihad.

South-East Asia's information technology revolution has hastened the spread of external influences, including extremist ideology. International television and information available on the Internet have led to a greater identification with Muslims in conflict around the world. They have inspired and shaped the behaviour of radicals in South-East Asia. The Internet is not merely a communications mechanism for extremists. It is also an effective vehicle for global publicity and recruitment efforts.

Some madrassas - including those run in Pakistan by the militant group Lashkar e-Tayyiba - emphasise computer literacy, even while teaching few or no other secular subjects. Within South-East Asia itself, large numbers of community-run Islamic boarding schools, or pesantren, operate outside the state control of formal Islamic education systems. Income disparity in many countries of the region has led to poorer youth taking up this option with governments unable to meet the educational needs of growing populations.

A small number of these schools have become a source of concern to regional governments as Jemaah Islamiyah has sought to use networks of pesantren across several South-East Asian countries as a vehicle to propagate extremist ideology and for recruitment purposes. Pesantren vulnerable to these approaches are few in number relative to the majority that emphasise the teaching of moral values.

Al Qaida has also recruited and radicalised students with Western secular educational backgrounds. In South-East Asia some of Jemaah Islamiyah's leading operatives have had advanced technical and scientific qualifications from secular universities.

It is important to note that many leading advocates of pluralism and democracy in South-East Asia are graduates of Islamic education institutions. Former Indonesian President, Abdurrahman Wahid, and prominent Indonesian Muslim intellectuals including the Rector of the State Islamic University in Jakarta, Dr Azyumardi Azra, and the Rector of the Paramadina Mulya University, Nurcholish Madjid, are all graduates of Islamic education institutions.

Regional vulnerabilities

Transnational terrorist groups, including Al Qaida and Lashkar e-Tayyiba, have demonstrated an interest in South-East Asia. They see it as a base for operations, a safe haven and a source of potential recruits. It is also a source of the kinds of services drawn upon by other transnational criminals. Terrorists look to exploit any vulnerabilities in the region's varied counter-terrorism capabilities. Areas of potential concern in some regional countries include limitations in institutional, governance and legislative frameworks; resource constraints; inadequate coordination arrangements, both internally and between countries in the region; and variable political will. Problem areas also include law enforcement, intelligence, transport security, defence and anti-terrorist financing.

Terrorist groups can also exploit long-standing socio-political and economic grievances that persist in some countries.

The lack of controlled border crossings in some South-East Asian countries is a major impediment to the monitoring and control of terrorist groups. Maritime piracy is a significant problem in the region. Porous borders, combined with massive inbound tourist and business flows, open immigration regimes, limited identity and document fraud detection, inadequately trained or corrupt officials, poor coordination between border control agencies and various security agencies, and limited immigration and customs control capacities all provide an environment in which terrorism can flourish.

All these problems can be compounded by inadequate legislation. Effective laws are important to put governments in the best possible position to investigate, detain and prosecute those involved in terrorism and its financing.

Al Qaida and other terrorist groups are known to have abused charitable organisations. They have used them for fund-raising and have diverted money donated to them towards support for extremist activities. Unregulated and unaudited Islamic charities in South-East Asia are vulnerable to misuse by extremist groups.


South-East Asian terrorist organisations have received funding through covert means such as couriers, and legitimate and front companies and organisations. It is suspected that Al Qaida provided funding for the Bali bombings and it is known to have provided funding in the past to terrorist groups in the Philippines.

Some Islamic non-government organisations, particularly those based in the Arabian Peninsula are - both knowingly and unknowingly - used as conduits for terrorist financing in South-East Asia. The Australian Government is aware that, while predominantly engaging in legitimate humanitarian and religious activities, some of these organisations have been used by terrorists for the transfer of funds, the purchase of arms and other forms of logistic support. Terrorism has also been supported by other financial activities, including fundraising, extortion, kidnapping and ransom.

Jemaah Islamiyah and the evolution of South-East Asian terrorist networks

Jemaah Islamiyah - origins and development

Jemaah Islamiyah has its origins in the Darul Islam separatist movement in Indonesia. Darul Islam was involved in regional rebellions in the 1950s and 1960s that sought to impose Islamic law or form Islamic states in parts of Indonesia. The movement was strongest in West and Central Java, South Sumatra and South Sulawesi, areas where Jemaah Islamiyah is most heavily represented today.

After the Darul Islam insurgency was suppressed in the mid-1960s, Darul Islam continued to exist as an underground political movement working for imposition of Islamic law in Indonesia. In the 1980s, in the wake of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, the movement became more active and was involved in covert opposition to the Soeharto Government. By the mid-1990s, several armed extremist groups had emerged from the Darul Islam movement, tracing their origins to the insurgencies of the 1950s.

Jemaah Islamiyah evolved as a secretive militant organisation from a faction of the Darul Islam political movement, led by Abdullah Sungkar, who died in 1999. Sungkar and Abu Bakar Ba'asyir, his long-time associate, established the Al Mukmin pesantren at Ngruki, in Central Java, in 1971.

This school became a centre for Muslim radical activity in the area. Many of the Jemaah Islamiyah leaders studied at the Ngruki school, as did Bali bombers Amrozi and Mukhlas. The terrorist who drove the bomb to the JW Marriott Hotel in Jakarta, killing 12 people in August 2003, was also a former Ngruki student.

Both Sungkar and Ba'asyir were jailed several times during this period by Indonesian authorities for seeking to establish an Islamic state. Sungkar and Ba'asyir fled to Malaysia to escape a crackdown by Indonesian authorities on Muslim militancy in the mid-1980s. Malaysia then became the centre of the group's activities. Jemaah Islamiyah - in the form in which it is known today - was established around this time, in the mid- to late-1980s. Sungkar led Jemaah Islamiyah from Malaysia, preaching a doctrine of attaining an Islamic state in Indonesia through militant struggle on the three-fold basis of strengthening faith, Islamic brotherhood and military capability. The Luqmanul Hakim madrassa in the Malaysian state of Johor, since closed down by Malaysian authorities, was a base for Ba'asyir and Sungkar while in Malaysia. Bali bomber Mukhlas taught at the Luqmanul Hakim school during this period.

These Indonesian exiles developed a radical religious following in Malaysia. At the same time, they were developing links with the Muslim separatists in the southern Philippines. They adapted their preaching to their new circumstances. They began to promote a pan-Malay Muslim ideology calling for a unified South-East Asian Islamic state.

Probably the most important factor in the development of South-East Asian extremism was Sungkar's decision to send recruits to militant training camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan from the mid-1980s.

Students practising  self-defence

The al-Mukmin Ngruki Islamic boarding school near Solo, Java, continues to operate. Students practising self-defence for their sports lesson

(Photo: Newspix/Renee Nowytarger)

Both Sungkar and Ba'asyir returned to Indonesia in 1998 following the fall of President Soeharto. After the death of Sungkar, Ba'asyir took over leadership of the major Darul Islam faction in Central Java. Ba'asyir used it as a platform to launch the Indonesian Mujahideen Council (Majlis Mujahidin Indonesia - MMI) - a political organisation campaigning openly for the implementation of an Islamic state in Indonesia.

While the MMI has a broad membership, including many members who seek to bring about an Islamic state through peaceful, democratic means, its leadership core is closely linked with Jemaah Islamiyah and seeks to use the MMI as a political front.

Abu Bakar Ba'asyir

Abu Bakar Ba'asyir is the spiritual leader of Jemaah Islamiyah. Indonesian police arrested Ba'asyir on 30 April 2004 under Indonesia's counter-terrorism law, and declared him a suspect in the Bali and JW Marriott Hotel bombings.

Ba'asyir incites and supports terrorism. He has repeatedly stated his support for Usama Bin Laden.

In an interview on the SBS Insight program on 9 March 2004, Ba'asyir gave unflinching support to the Bali bombers, describing them as defenders of Islam and Indonesia. In an interview broadcast on Channel 7 on 17 March 2004, Ba'asyir claimed that 'sooner or later, America and the countries that assisted will be destroyed in the name of Allah'.

Jemaah Islamiyah - operations and training

Using the skills gained in the crucible of the war in Afghanistan, Jemaah Islamiyah has developed a formalised structure to provide systematic training for its new recruits from across the region.

Jemaah Islamiyah established Camp Hudaibiyyah within the MILF's Camp Abu Bakar in Mindanao, in the southern Philippines, from about 1998, using some of the original graduates from training in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Camp Hudaibiyyah was closed down by the Philippine military in 2000, but there is evidence that Jemaah Islamiyah training has continued in alternative locations in the southern Philippines.

While many of the more senior Jemaah Islamiyah operatives gained their terrorist training and expertise in Afghanistan and Pakistan, others have developed the bulk of their skills in South-East Asia.

Training camps are not required at all for competent individuals to pass on the bomb-making skills and techniques needed for terrorism. Graduates of Jemaah Islamiyah's militant training may well have the operational, logistic and administrative skills required to plan and stage another terrorist attack like Bali or the JW Marriott Hotel bombing.


Abu Bakar Ba'asyir is an Indonesian cleric of Yemeni descent who was born in Jombang, East Java, in 1938. Ba'asyir was active in advocating an Islamic state in Indonesia from his student days, and he joined radical Islamic youth movements. He started, but did not complete, an Islamic legal studies course at a university in Solo. He appears to have gradually become attracted to more extreme ideas during his university days.

Ba'asyir met Jemaah Islamiyah founder Abdullah Sungkar - also an Indonesian of Yemeni descent - in Solo. Here the two established an Islamic radio station that, by 1971, had evolved into an Islamic boarding school, Al Mukmin, located at Ngruki, outside Solo.

Ba'asyir and Sungkar both spent four years in jail (1978 - 82) on charges related to their ongoing covert agitation for the establishment of an Islamic state in Indonesia. Ba'asyir's original nine-year sentence was reinstated in 1985 and he fled to Malaysia with Sungkar. From exile, they directed their followers to the anti-Soviet militant jihad in Afghanistan. Jemaah Islamiyah - in the form in which it is known today - was officially formed during this period.

Ba'asyir took over the spiritual leadership of Jemaah Islamiyah after the death of Sungkar in 1999. In 1999 he helped found the Rabitatul Mujahidin (Mujahideen Association) in Malaysia. In 2000 he founded and was elected head of the Indonesian Mujahideen Council (MMI).

In April 2003 Abu Bakar Ba'asyir went on trial charged with attempting to cause the collapse of the Indonesian Government, forgery, perjury and immigration offences. He was not charged in relation to the Bali bombings. The first charge included allegations Ba'asyir had led a plot to assassinate Indonesian President, Megawati Soekarnoputri, and that he had authorised the Christmas 2000 church bombings in Indonesia.

In September 2003, Ba'asyir was convicted of treason and immigration offences and sentenced to four years in prison. This sentence was reduced on appeal and the treason conviction overturned. Ba'asyir was rearrested under Indonesia's counter- terrorism laws on the same day he was released from jail: 30 April 2004. He faces questioning and possible new charges as a suspect in terrorist activities, including the Bali and JW Marriott Hotel bombings.

Jemaah Islamiyah's emphasis on training has several benefits for the organisation. It provides a flow of extremists, bolstering Jemaah Islamiyah's ranks or replacing its losses. And coordinated training helps to cement transnational organisational bonds within Jemaah Islamiyah by throwing together recruits drawn from different geographic regions.

Jemaah Islamiyah - links to global terrorism

In looking for global partners to advance its terrorist campaign, Al Qaida has found a willing ally in South-East Asia in Jemaah Islamiyah.

And now that Jemaah Islamiyah has global recognition as an actor in transnational extremist-Muslim terrorism, support from Al Qaida and other sponsors of terrorism in the Middle East is likely to continue to flow to South-East Asia.

Financial and operational links to Middle Eastern extremist groups, especially Al Qaida in the early 1990s, were important in the development of South-East Asian radical Muslim groups, including Jemaah Islamiyah.

While Jemaah Islamiyah and Al Qaida operate largely independently of each other, there are close and direct links. Jemaah Islamiyah leader, Hambali, who was captured in Thailand in August 2003, is widely understood to have been Al Qaida's South-East Asian operations chief, and certainly provided ongoing contact between Jemaah Islamiyah and Al Qaida. The relationship between Jemaah Islamiyah and Al Qaida is more a loose alliance forged through a shared ideology, rather than a hierarchical structure of command and control. But Al Qaida is a potent inspiration and example to South-East Asian Muslim militants, and has provided resources for their terrorist operations.

Jemaah Islamiyah's transformation from a radical Muslim organisation focused on local grievances and with local ambitions to a transnational terrorist network is of key concern to Australia and other governments in the region.

Jemaah Islamiyah - a distorted vision

Jemaah Islamiyah promotes its vision of a unified South-East Asian Islamic state encompassing Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, the southern Philippines and southern Thailand. Jemaah Islamiyah has also identified Australia as a region in which to expand its network.

But Jemaah Islamiyah's concept of a South-East Asian super-state, forming part of a global Islamic caliphate, governed by Taliban-style religious extremism, is flawed. The overwhelming majority of the population of Indonesia - and indeed of South-East Asia more broadly - appears to reject Jemaah Islamiyah's vision and its use of terrorist attacks to further its aims.

There are other large obstacles to Jemaah Islamiyah achieving its goal, not least the fact that all governments in the region reject the idea. Nation-states and nationalism are obvious major hurdles. And Jemaah Islamiyah's attempt to provide a transnational framework for radicalism in the region is not always at one with the deep historical roots and distinct agendas of its potential allies in South-East Asia. Local agendas and the jealously guarded independence of partner groups get in the way.

Jemaah Islamiyah relies on operational cooperation with other extremist organisations in the region, based on shared values, family links and ties forged overseas or while waging militant jihad in inter-communal conflicts in Maluku and Sulawesi. But Jemaah Islamiyah does not command the obedience of these other organisations. The various extremist groups are beset by personal rivalries, differences over the appropriateness of targeting civilians, and the acceptability of traditional Indonesian Islamic practices.

Even within Jemaah Islamiyah there is division. Some elements focus almost exclusively on bringing about an Islamic state in Indonesia. Others work to an anti-Western or anti-US agenda.

The region has seen how Jemaah Islamiyah is prepared to damage regional economies in pursuit of its own ideological goals, regardless of the impact felt more broadly across society. The Bali bombings are estimated to have taken 1.5 per cent off Indonesia's gross domestic product.

The fall-out from terrorist attacks in Bali, Jakarta and the southern Philippines shows how Muslim-inspired terror strikes also at mainstream Islam and mainstream Muslim countries. The ultimate manifestation of the contempt that South-East Asian Muslim extremists have for the people of the region is their repeated, indiscriminate killing of citizens of South-East Asian countries. Westerners, Christians and Jews are priority targets, in line with Usama Bin Laden's so-called fatwa. But 34 Indonesians were killed in the Bali bombings and 11 in the JW Marriott Hotel bombing, among them both Hindus and Muslims.

Extremist-Muslim terrorism is likely to remain a feature of the security environment in South-East Asia for the foreseeable future. The major factors underlying the severity of the terrorist threat - the strong intention and capability of terrorist organisations to strike, and the varying counter-terrorism capabilities of regional governments, which in turn enhance the attractiveness of the region to terrorist groups such as Al Qaida - will not soon, or easily, change.


Jemaah Islamiyah established a geographically based hierarchy with defined responsibilities and decision making procedures.

ΔΆ The leader (Amir), a leadership council (Markaz) and consultative councils (Shura) oversaw four geographic divisions (Mantiqi). Each Mantiqi divided into smaller sub-groups (as represented below) which administered Jemaah Islamiyah activity appropriate to their area.

- Mantiqi I and IV were focused primarily on fundraising.

- Mantiqi II was focused primarily on leadership and recruitment.

- Mantiqi III was focused primarily on training.

While parts of this structure have been disrupted since late 2001, including through the arrests of key leaders, Jemaah Islamiyah retains a flexible hierarchical administration. Amir Markaz Shura Mantiqi III Sabah, Sulawesi and South Philippines Mantiqi IV Australia and Papua New Guinea Mantiqi I Singapore and Malaysia Mantiqi II Indonesia Wakalah Wakalah Wakalah Kirdas Kirdas Kirdas Fiah Fiah Fiah

Ji Structure cahrt

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