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Moderate Islam losing ground to extremists in Poso

Jakarta Post - November 13, 2012

After a peace pact in 2001 that ended three years of bloody sectarian conflict in Poso, Central Sulawesi, extremists linked to and directed by al-Qaeda affiliated Jamaah Islamiyah (JI) have largely been left undisturbed with their radical ideology in the Christian-majority regency.

The extremists' network in Poso was actually weakened and fractured after the peace accord was signed.

However, the government's failure to thoroughly root out radicalism, coupled with alleged police brutality in counterterrorism raids, have reunited the Islamic fighters and boosted the spirit needed to radicalize traumatized residents.

The movement has eventually resulted in the unexpected expansion of Islamic militant strongholds, such as the Tanah Runtuh and Kayamanya neighborhoods. Tanah Runtuh was the JI base in Poso during the conflict while Kayamanya remains the base of Kompak extremists.

Kompak, translated as the Crisis Management/Prevention Committee, is a JI-affiliated group that masterminded the sectarian conflict. Besides their expanding base, militants have also aggressively tried to take over mosques run by moderate Muslim groups.

Former Islamic combatant Sutami Idris, who is now a respected moderate Muslim cleric, said many mosques were struggling to prevent the infiltration. Many moderate mosques in Poso have gradually come under the control of radical groups, Sutami said last week.

"Their movement looks to be very organized. First, they deploy their followers as ordinary congregation members to regularly attend prayers at particular mosques to gain trust."

"Once the trust begins to develop, these people are given responsibilities, such as announcing adzan [Muslim call to prayer] and are allowed to be part of the mosques' organizations. When this stage is reached, they begin to spread their radical ideology," he said.

According to Sutami, radical teachings can be easily identified by the way jihad is allowed to be carried out. "Robbing a jewelry store owned by 'infidels', for example, can be considered halal for these kinds of group," Sutami said.

Sutami acknowledged that many Islamic clerics from outside Poso, particularly from Java, such as Surakarta and Semarang, had played significant roles in the radicalization movement.

"Many of those labeled 'terrorists' by the police are not well-known publicly, at least by me. I know all the Islamic leaders operating in this area who are Poso natives," said Sutami, who served time in prison after the end of the sectarian conflict.

Among the outsiders spreading radical teachings, according to Sutami, is Santoso, the police's top fugitive who allegedly shot dead three police officers last year in Palu, the capital of Central Sulawesi.

He also named Yasin, who was arrested during a Nov. 3 raid on terrorists. Both are Javanese.

Sutami called on all stakeholders to help equip the moderate camp to fight the radicals, including by strengthening the role of Al Khairat, the biggest Islamic organization adhering to moderate teachings in Central Sulawesi. Al Khairat has ties to the nation's largest Muslim group, Nahdlatul Ulama.

Although Sutami has taken the moderate path, the radicals have not been discouraged from trying to indoctrinate him and his followers. "I was frequently targeted by the group. But I have a strong belief that such radical ideology is inappropriate. Besides, we are tired of conflict," said Sutami.

The authorities in Poso are also worried over the inflow of former combatants of the Philippines' Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

The Philippine government signed a peace pact with MILF last month to end decades of bloody separatism conflict. However, the combatants, who oppose the peace pact, may have traveled to Poso to help their Muslim brothers in the fight.

Unconfirmed reports circulating among Poso residents revealed that villagers along the northern shoreline between Poso and Morowali had met with strangers who were unable to speak the Indonesian language. Some of the "newcomers" immediately fled, leaving their boats and cooking utensils on the beach.

Peace advocate Rafiq Syamsuddin, previously a Muslim combatant during the sectarian conflict, believes the government's failure to stem radical teachings and rehabilitate former combatants are the root of the protracted security instability in Poso.

"There is actually a good program where former combatants are subject to vocational training and cash incentives, not to mention 'special access' to win projects from Poso regency in exchange for removing themselves from radical teachings and violence," Rafiq said.

"But unfortunately, the program is not carried out in a transparent way, leaving many disappointed and adhering to their radical ideology and violence," he said.

However, Poso Deputy Regent Samsuri denied that the program had failed. "As you can see, Poso today is fairly peaceful. This is because the deradicalization program ran well," he said.

While such a program remains valid, the authorities have again been alerted to the inflow of extremists from Java. According to Adnan Arsal, the leader of the Tanah Runtuh neighborhood, many clerics and militants from Java had opted to shift their jihad operations to Poso.

Militants and terrorist fugitives apparently want to create tension between Christians and Muslims in Poso in the hope of reviving the sectarian conflict. "Santoso, among others, may feel more comfortable running his operations in Poso," he said.

In the last couple of years, terrorist groups have targeted the so-called "near enemy", which includes the police and government officials, in their struggle to turn Indonesia into an Islamic state. For the groups, there is no better spot to wage the war than Poso, given its bleak history and difficult terrain.

But the targeting of authorities has backfired as the police appear to revenge their fallen comrades. The terrorists were allegedly behind the killing of three police officers last month in a forest in Poso.

Former combatant Jamil, a native Poso cleric, suffered severe injuries in the head and face, as well as right elbow and leg during his detention by the police for more than six hours on Nov. 3.

He claimed he had been kicked, trampled and dragged by the police during an antiterror raid following the killings and violence in the past three months that have plagued Poso.

The police failed to tie Jamil to terrorist activities or any plot to revive the conflict.

"I have been trying hard to respect the police. But after what I just went through, I can hardly perceive them the same way," Jamil, a known moderate cleric, said last week.

The police have not apologized nor offered compensation to help ease both the mental and physical damage he may have incurred from the arrest.

Rafiq said police brutality had brought back memories of the dark times in Poso. "Personally, I am not provoked. But what about the others? Particularly former fellow combatants."


  • Dec. 1998: Sectarian conflict begins, comprising mostly the burning of Christian homes
  • April 2000: The second wave of sectarian violence starts between Muslims and Christians: 1,000 dead, 25,000 families homeless.
  • May-Dec. 2000: The third wave of sectarian conflict. Many clashes, including the attack on Christians in Sepe village. 300 dead, thousands of homes destroyed.
  • July 2000: Arrest of top Christian combatants Fabianus Tibo, Dominggus da Silva and Marianus Riwu
  • May-June 2001: Walisongo Islamic school burned, hundreds of students killed
  • July 2001: 14 Muslims killed in Buyung Katedo hamlet
  • Dec. 2001: Malino peace accord signed
  • Oct. 2003: Masked gunmen kill 13 Christian villagers in Beteleme subdistrict in Morowali regency
  • May 2004: Drive-by murder of prosecutor Fery Silalahi, a Christian
  • May 2005: Tentena bombings
  • Oct. 2005: Three Christian schoolgirls beheaded
  • Sept. 2006: Tibo, da Silva and Riwu executed Oct. 2006: Muslim militants and police clash, killing one
  • Jan. 2007: Police raid JI stronghold in Tanah Runtuh, 14 killed including police officer
  • Aug. 2012: Christian durian seller killed
  • Oct. 2012: Two missing police officers found slaughtered in Tamanjeka
  • Oct.-Nov. 2012: Police officers kill two, arrest nine in terror raids