The Big Read in Brief: Terrorist Group JI’s New Game Plan to Seek Legitimacy

SINGAPORE – Hezbollah, a militant group in Lebanon known for its bloody history of sectarian violence and labeled as a terrorist organization by many countries, shocked the world when it became a member of the winning coalition in the country’s legislative elections. Middle East in 2018.

Some 9,000 km away in Indonesia, experts fear that another obscure organization with a violent past is monitoring these events and taking notes.

Despite the crackdown by the security agencies, the arrests of several key leaders and a global war on terror which also saw the emergence of rival groups antithetical to its cause, the scourge of the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) organization which terrorized Early Southeast Asia The 2000s still persist today.

Many Singaporeans are familiar with JI – last week marked the 20th anniversary of the December 8, 2001 crackdown on the terrorist group in Singapore, which involved the arrest of dozens of its members and revealed the true extent of the JI’s activities. infamous group in the area. . It later emerged that JI had made plans to attack more than 80 targets in Singapore.

Terrorism experts speaking to TODAY highlight how security actions decimated JI in the region, limiting its clandestine activities to its base in Indonesia, where it was originally from.

But there are growing signs that JI, whose membership is estimated at between 6,000 and 10,000 today, may evolve into a “hybrid” variant of Islamist extremism that will be difficult to eradicate.

On November 16, Indonesian Counter-Terrorism Police Detachment 88 arrested three people suspected of being members of the JI, including Farid Ahmad Okbah, who founded the Indonesian People’s Dakwah Party (PDRI) earlier this year.

Farid is said to be a member of JI’s board of directors and his party is a new channel used by JI, Indonesian police investigating the links have said. The PDRI disputed these claims.

If the allegations against the PDRI are confirmed, this is the first time that JI has attempted to participate formally in the political process in Indonesia by forming a political party, even though its ideology rejects democracy.

In response to questions posed by TODAY, Singapore’s Department of Homeland Security (ISD) said the JI remains resilient and adaptable, even as it retreats tactically.

The terrorist group now appears to be moving its strategy away from violent attacks and turning to “political infiltration” of political parties, charities and other open front organizations, ISD said. The JI is playing the game for a long time and has not abandoned its militant ideology or renounced the use of violence, he added.

Experts said the alleged attempts to seek political legitimacy are nonetheless a worrying sign that the “ground” sought by the JI is shifting in its favor.

Mr. Mohd Adhe Bhakti, executive director of the Center for Studies on Radicalism and Deradicalization based in Indonesia, said that there is a feeling among Muslims in his country that they want to feel closer to religion, which groups such as JI operate.

Either way, with investigations still ongoing, the opening of a political front for JI poses interesting questions about the future of the banned organization, said associate professor Kumar Ramakrishna, who heads the International Center for research on political violence and terrorism at the S Rajaratnam school. of International Studies (RSIS).

“We are approaching an inflection point with regard to OMC,” said Prof. Assoc Ramakrishna.


JI was born as a dissident cell of a post-colonial separatist movement, Darul Islam, which sought to establish an Islamic state in Indonesia through a violent insurgency. The group then fragmented in 1962 after the capture of its leader.

Two of its members, Abu Bakar Bashir and Abdullah Sungkar, later founded JI in 1993.

Both had ties to the Al Qaeda terrorist organization in Afghanistan, having traveled there in the 1980s, and adopted an emphasis on global jihad for the splinter group. Abu Bakar, 83, who remains JI’s spiritual leader, was released from Indonesian prison this year.

But with Singapore sounding the alarm bells on JI in 2001, and after the Bali bombings of October 2002, the resulting crackdown on the militant group in Indonesia and other countries disrupted JI’s hierarchical structure, sending it into a period of decline.

He also returned to his early Indonesian roots, said Prof Assoc Ramakrishna.

Over the years since 2002, experts have said that around 900 members of the OMC have been caught. Mr. Adhe believes that at least seven “emirs” – the main leaders of JI – were also arrested.

JI, however, remained dangerous and violent during this period of repression. Arrests of senior leaders could lead to reprisals from other members, and there have been several instances of attacks by the OMC when the organization lost its leaders to the crackdown, Adhe added.


At the end of 2009, JI leader Para Wijayanto came to lead the organization and sought to resuscitate JI from its diminished state over the following decade.

He suspended the violence for which the militant group had become known to reduce attention to the group, and the JI at the time became known as “Neo-JI” due to its change of course.

Wijayanto planted the seeds of rebuilding and regrouping the organization, transforming it into an organization that would bide its time by developing a solid political base in the community before re-engaging in jihad using an approach of ” strategic patience ”.

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