JAKARTA — The Indonesian courts this week jailed the mastermind of a planned terrorist attack on the Burmese Embassy in Jakarta. Sentenced to seven-and-a-half years in prison, the hardliner vowed he would continue to fight the enemies of Islam.
Sigit Indrajit was the third to be jailed in the foiled embassy bomb plot. Police apprehended the hardliners in Jakarta last May, one with a backpack full of explosives.
At an earlier trial Indrajit confessed to leading the planned attack to avenge the deaths of ethnic Rohingya Muslims, a minority group denied citizenship in Burma.
The treatment of the Rohingya, who have been the focus of violent attacks in mainly Buddhist Burma over the past year, has generated widespread anger in Indonesia.
Given the potential severity of the attack on a diplomatic mission in the country’s economic and political center, terrorism analysts say the court’s decision this week could have been more severe.
According to Todd Elliot, an analyst from Concorde Consulting, it is likely Indrajit won’t serve the full sentence, and will be released with an “elevated stature.”
“He will do his time, maybe get out early, sentence reductions or whatever, he’ll be out in a couple of years," opined Elliot, "and he’ll go right out into the terrorist movement, not only that he will come out with an elevated stature in the movement as he in jail because he participated in this plot he’ll come out with a degree of respect among the jihadist community.”
The embassy plot followed calls from Abu Bakar Bashir, who from behind bars urged Indonesian Muslims to pursue jihad in Burma, also known as Myanmar.
Bashir is one of the founders of Jemaah Islamiyah, or JI, the terrorist organization behind the deadly 2002 nightclub bombings in Bali.
He is currently serving a 15-year jail term.
Despite a significant crackdown on terrorist networks such as JI following the Bali bombings, analysts say the embassy plot points to the resilience of splinter groups - the most recent manifestation of extremist activity here.
“Groups like JI that attack targets in Bali and Jakarta, you know, they are pretty much in decline or have been eradicated by the successes of the counterterrorism apparatus," explained Elliot, "but violent jihad has not been eradicated, so as a result it has morphed into this dispersed, less predictable threat which is what we are seeing now.”
Rather than large-scale attacks, the Indonesian terrorist landscape is comprised of a decentralized mix of networks.
Groups who support jihad in countries such as Burma and Syria often use social media to garner support and recruit.
Indrajit, for example, met some of his accomplices on Facebook after posting messages about the persecution of Rohingya Muslims.
This year alone, authorities have identified several so-called splinter jihadists.
In January police shot dead six terrorists in an overnight shootout, west of Jakarta. And at the start of this week, police arrested two extremists they allege were ready to launch attacks on officers.
But terrorism analyst Noor Huda Ismail says that even when convicted terrorists are put in prison, they often come out more radicalized. Hardline materials such as books, even cell phones, are easily smuggled into Indonesian jails.
“More importantly terrorist inmates have easy access to meet with other inmates because even though they are segregated, during a certain time, usually the morning or afternoon, their cell will be opened up and they can mingle with other prisoners,” Huda said.
The analyst, who heads the Institute for the International Peace Building, an NGO, works with convicted terrorists to challenge their hardline views.
He also helps them reintegrate into society once they are released.
But he says terrorist recruitment is a huge problem inside Indonesian jails, with hardliners slowly but gradually building relationship with criminal inmates.
“Because these terrorist inmates are driven by ideology, they are smarter, they can provide hope to other criminal inmates then naturally those inmates will come to them and ask for advice, and their perspective," Huda explained.
Indonesia has more Muslims than the entire Arab world, but most do not subscribe to radical views.
Inspired by global jihadist causes from the Philippines to Afghanistan, fringe radical groups have existed for decades in Indonesia.