V Arianti and Muh Taufiqurrohman – The Indonesian government has arrested more than 1100 suspected terrorists since 2015, with still more killed in counter-terrorism operations or during attacks.
As of 2018, there were 432 terrorist inmates across 117 prisons. Hundreds are undergoing or awaiting trial. While the Indonesian government is successfully enforcing the anti-terrorism law, the proliferation of extremist charities exposes the families of incarcerated or slain militants to extremist influence.
Providing stipends and financial assistance to militants' families is part of the organisational expenses of terrorist groups. This is to support the militant – typically male and the sole breadwinner in the family – in focussing on his militant objectives without worrying about the welfare of his family. For example, US$15,000 out of US$100,000 sent by al-Qaeda to Jemaah Islamiyah in 2003 was allocated to support the families of arrested group members.
Many so-called Islamic State (IS) informal charities emerged in recent years – partly due to increased demand as there were more arrests in 2015-2019 than in 2002-2013. These charities facilitate family visits to prison, inmates' trip to their hometown upon completion of their sentences and provide inmates with meals. They also sponsor the families' healthcare and education expenses and capital for setting up businesses.
The decentralised pro-IS network in Indonesia – generally consisting of Jamaah Ansharud Daulah (JAD), Mujahidin Indonesia Timur (MIT), Jamaah Ansharul Khilafah (JAK) and various independent cells – is accompanied by decentralised charities set up by the groups' members and sympathisers. JAD's affiliated charities are Baitul Mal Ummah, Anfiqu Center, Gubuk Sedekah Amal Ummah (GSAU), and RIS Al Amin.
JAK activists run the Aseer Cruee Center (ACC) and Baitul Mal Al Muuqin. One ACC donor was an Indonesian maid working in Singapore recently charged with terrorism financing. Those that have provided financial assistance to families of JAD and MIT members in recent years include the Infak Dakwah Centre and GASHIBU – the most well established extremist charities, having been around since 2011.
Providing an exact number of pro-IS charities is difficult given the multiple and independent fundraising efforts by IS partisans. In 2016-2017 alone, there were at least 15 pro-IS charities including those specialising in educating members' children. The figure has fluctuated over the years, partly due to arrests of administrators or internal conflicts – including corruption – leading to the splintering of some charities.
There will likely be a further increase in the number of extremist charities due to a number of factors. Such charities play a key role in sustaining the ideological struggle of the jihadist movement by providing financial and other support to both members and their families. This is borne out when the financial ledgers of extremist charities are scrutinised. According to terrorism expert Bruce Hoffman, the endurance of terrorist groups is also connected to the level of sustenance and financial support they receive from an existing constituency. These extremist charities also reinforce members' ideological commitment and introduce their ideology to the families.
A key feature of this is manifested in radical inmates' rejection of the Indonesian prison's deradicalisation program. Charities such as GSAU have conducted prison visits by bringing in former convicts who remain radical in an effort to consolidate the pro-IS movement in prison and after the inmates' release. Outside prison, ACC and Baitul Mal Al Muqiin have sponsored JAK's religious study sessions in Java and Madura. Charities may also facilitate the return of Indonesian IS fighters – there has been an informal fundraising effort on social media recently to fund the return of an Indonesian pro-IS inmate who was allegedly released from a Malaysian prison.
Indonesia also does not have a law that governs local charities. Its current anti-terrorism financing law does not label extremist charities for inmates' families under the category of indirect use of financing terrorism. This is further complicated by the fact that most of these charities are careful about their operations to avoid being prosecuted under Indonesia's anti-terrorism financing law. The majority provide financial assistance to families but stop short of providing assistance for directly terrorism-related expenses such as weapon procurement.
The Indonesian authorities are aware of their quandary in curtailing extremist charities. Indonesia's financial intelligence unit PPATK (Financial Transaction Reports and Analysis Center) monitors the extremist charities and provides information to the police.
The anti-terror police force, Detachment 88, is also attempting to mitigate the threat posed by extremist charities by providing shelter and travel expenses to facilitate the families' prison visits. But extremist charities provide more than the government is able to.
To strengthen its mitigation strategy, the Indonesian authorities should invest in an 'after-care' program that specifically looks after the well-being of the inmates' families, with the aim of safeguarding them from being radicalised or further radicalised by extremist charities. The program should also ensure that the released inmates renounce violence and reintegrate into society. Reintegration can be facilitated by tapping into mainstream Muslim charities and intensifying collaboration with other NGOs operating on the ground.
[V Arianti is an Associate Research Fellow at the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research (ICPVTR), a constituent unit in the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore. Muh Taufiqurrohman is a Senior Researcher at the Centre for Radicalism and Deradicalization Studies, (PAKAR), an NGO based in Jakarta.]