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Terror group's facelift

Jakarta Post Editorial - November 22, 2021

Jakarta – The recent arrest of Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) member Ahmad Zain An-Najah for his alleged link to the Jamaah Islamiyah (JI) terrorist group has shocked not only high-ranking officials like Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Mahfud MD, but also the general public who put their trust in the council as their moral guide.

But learning from the way the terror network has changed its strategy, the Densus 88 counterterrorism squad's capture of Ahmad Zain last week should not have surprised us. Early this month, the same police unit apprehended a teacher of a state senior high school in Lampung, identified as DRS, also for his alleged role in JI, the group responsible for a series of bomb attacks in Bali and Jakarta in the first decade of the millennium.

The police nabbed Ahmad Zain, who served in the council's fatwa commission, along with other suspects Farid Okbah and Anung Al Hamat in the West Java city of Bekasi, east of Jakarta.

Like Ahmad Zain, DRS, who is also a civil servant, had shown no signs of having sympathized – let alone being affiliated – with terrorist movements. They attended flag-raising ceremonies mandatory for civil servants and public officials in a show of loyalty to the state. Like other members of society, they, too, mingled with colleagues, neighbors and the people around them, instead of living in seclusion like members of terrorist cells the police had cracked down on in the past.

Brig. Gen. Ahmad Nurwakhid, the director of prevention at the National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT), said JI, and perhaps other terrorist groups operating in the country, had abandoned its old approach in recruiting new members. Unlike in the past, JI has expanded its scouting grounds to all elements of society.

JI, according to Nurwakhid, has undergone a facelift to become an inclusive organization in order to win public hearts and minds. The group camouflages its real aim of establishing an Islamic state in Indonesia through, among other ways, social and religious activities.

In fact, Ahmad Zain, Farid and Anung are affiliated with JI through their involvement in the Abdurrahman Bin Auf philanthropy foundation, which the police believe has raised public funds to finance JI activities. The teacher arrested in Lampung was the treasurer of the organization, which in the province alone collected about Rp 70 million (US$4,905) per month.

The BNPT estimates that JI has between 6,000 and 7,000 members and sympathizers across the country, which should give us a cause for vigilance. Considering its militancy and loyalty to its leaders, the group is posing a real threat to national – and eventually regional – security.

Changes to the way JI operates may demand that we revisit our counterterrorism approach. JI and other terrorist groups may no longer spread fear through bomb blasts and other acts of violence but sow good deeds to reap public sympathy and instill their beliefs.

As terrorism experts have warned, a terrorist group can claim success when people known for their neighborliness, activities in social organizations and academic achievements are arrested because of their involvement in terrorism-related activities.

A series of unpredicted arrests recently could be just the tip of the iceberg, as Brig. Gen. Nurwakhid put it. There is no choice left for us but to raise our alertness.

Source: https://www.thejakartapost.com/opinion/2021/11/21/terror-groups-facelift.htm