News / Asia

Indonesian Jihadists in Syria Highlight Conflict's Global Draw

Soldiers loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad are seen at Hujaira town, south of Damascus, after the soldiers took control of it from the rebel fighters, in this handout photograph distributed by Syria's national news agency SANA, Nov. 13, 2013.
Soldiers loyal to Syria's President Bashar al-Assad are seen at Hujaira town, south of Damascus, after the soldiers took control of it from the rebel fighters, in this handout photograph distributed by Syria's national news agency SANA, Nov. 13, 2013.
Kate Lamb
As the war in Syria enters its third year, the conflict continues to attract Islamic fighters from the Arab world, and from countries as far flung as Kazakhstan, Australia and Indonesia. The trend has become a major concern for Western governments.
Of the hundreds of rebel units currently operating in Syria, some pledge allegiance to al-Qaida while others want to see Syria become an Islamic caliphate.
According to a recent estimate by the International Center for the Study of Radicalization, some 11,000 people from 74 countries have traveled to Syria to join the opposition fighters.
The figure has doubled since last April, with a particularly sharp increase in non-Arab and Western fighters.
According to terrorism analyst Noor Huda, while most foreign fighters are from the Middle East and Europe, Indonesian fighters are also getting involved for ideological reasons.
"They look at Sham [region of Syria] as the holy of holiest place for jihad where now they see the battle between good and evil, the battle between the Sunni and the Shia, and mostly Indonesian jihadists are Sunni, and then it is time for them to actually defend their Sunni brothers, it is timely for them,” Huda explained.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the ruling minority are Alawites, a Shia Islamic sect.
Huda noted that Indonesians studying in the Middle East have also traveled to Syria, and two have died in crossfire over recent months. They have since been held up as martyrs on radical websites.
Indonesia’s National Counterterrorism Agency is currently tracking 50 Indonesians in Syria suspected of terrorist activities.
Inspired by the idea of global jihad, the involvement of Indonesian hardliners in Syria also has local repercussions.
“If we look back at our experience with Indonesian fighters in Afghanistan you can see that the returned jihadists from Afghanistan have a certain standing here in Indonesia,” Huda said.

As Indonesia’s militants take a greater interest in conflicts abroad, Sidney Jones, from the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC), says they are becoming more anti-Shia at home.
“What is new in Indonesia is this virulent anti-Shia rhetoric, which seems like in part it is coming in part from Saudi-funded organizations," Jones said, "but the Syrian conflict is exacerbating that because Assad can be used as a example of why you have to aware of Shia, and see them as the enemy because they are killing Sunni Muslims.

Indonesia is the world largest Muslim-majority nation. Most here subscribe to Sunni Islam and hold moderate religious views.
Over the past two and half years, minority Shia Muslims have come under increasing attack, as well as forced relocations and in some cases, government-sanctioned forced conversion.

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Comment Sorting
by: MikeBarnett from: USA
January 14, 2014 7:19 PM
Osama bin Laden and all of al Qaeda have been Sunni muslims who have followed the Wahabi version of Sunni Islam from Saudi Arabia. It has an extremely strict and narrow vision of Islam. It is no surprise that Saudi Arabia and the other Arab Gulf states support the overthrow of President Assad, resistance to Prime Minister Maliki, and war against Iran as long as others do the fighting in each case.

Indonesians linked to al Qaeda blew up the Bali nightclub in 2002 and fought the government for several more years. Now, they have sent fighters to Syria for combat training before returning home. The US maintains 800 Special Forces soldiers to help fight islamic insurgents on Basilon Island in the southern Philippines north of Indonesia. They helped the government in a September, 2013, battle at Zamboanga against the muslim Moro National Liberation Front. Consequently, the actions in Syria are not new; they represent the type of international training that al Qaeda can conduct for islamic insurgents from many nations including the US with its Somali refugees, most of whom are Sunnis. This is a global unconventional war.

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