Indonesian Islamist Groups Described as Weak, Divided
Indonesian Islamist Groups Described as Weak, Divided

A radical Muslim preacher tied to bombings in Indonesia over the past decade has started a new Islamist organization. But security experts say the group reveals new divides among militants in the country.

Jamah Ansharut Tauhid, or JAT, has become the new public face of efforts to create an Islamic state in Indonesia. But the ideological debates on its blogs and Facebook page have revealed deep divisions within Indonesia's Islamist movement.

Some of the rifts are the result of years of Indonesian government efforts to halt terrorist attacks. Scores of Islamic militants have been arrested or killed in a wide crackdown following a bombing attack on two Jakarta hotels a year ago.

Sidney Jones, a terrorism expert at the International Crisis Group in Indonesia, says the arrests have made members suspicious of one another, and debates over the need for violence in the effort of creating an Islamic state have created divisions.

"It's through the chat rooms and the blogs and web postings that we begin to understand what the nature of these debates is and how divided the movement is in fact," she said.

The divide between JAT and radical organizations like Jemaah Islamiyah also reveal the declining influence of the radical cleric tied to the founding of both - Abu Bakar Bashir. Many terrorism experts in Southeast Asia consider him to have been a leading influence in J.I.'s bombing campaign in Indonesia over the past decade, including two attacks in Bali that left more than 220 people dead.

Jones says Bashir is no longer the radical movement's leading ideologue, in part because of his personal disputes with other radical leaders.

After a split with another Islamic organization in 2008, Bashir founded JAT as a non-violent group committed to the establishment of Islamic law in Indonesia. Son Hati, the secretary-general of JAT's East Java wing, says its mission is to unite Muslims in pushing for an Islamic system.

He says Islamic law cannot be implemented in a non-Islamic state. JAT believes the responsibility of a real Muslim is to run himself, run his life, and his state based on Islam.

But Jones thinks there is a dark side to the organization.

She says many of the people on JAT's executive council are convicted terrorists who continue to call for a militant form of jihad, or holy war, against Islam's enemies. Recently, Indonesian police arrested and charged three JAT officials with raising funds for a militant training camp in the northwestern province of Aceh.

Son Hati denies any connection to the camp, which Indonesian authorities say was led by Dulmatin, a top militant who died in a police raid in March.

Jones doubts claims that JAT's leaders did not know about the camp.

"JAT was set up as this organization that was controlled absolutely by Abu Bakar Bashir," said Jones. "It's not conceivable that senior officials would have raised money for the camp without his endorsement."

Son Hati, however, says JAT is still deciding how it will push for the implementation of Islamic law. Most of its energy is spent on religious outreach - publications, public meetings and sermons by Bashir.

He says it does not conduct paramilitary action and is unlikely to so in the future. But the group considers Muslims who do not support an Islamic state to be infidels.

Jones says this shows a shift in militant thinking because it essentially lumps local officials who reject Islamic law with secular Western states, such the United States and Australia, which JAT considers its enemies.

Indonesia has the world's largest Muslim population, but most Indonesians support the secular government. Authorities, Muslim leaders and political analysts all say that while there are some calls for the government adopt policies in line with Islamic values there is little public support for violent movements.

The International Crisis Group says some communities have refused to allow Bashir to speak to avoid encouraging extremism.

Son Hati acknowledges that JAT has faced rejection from some communities, but says that is from police pressure, not a lack of public support.

He says JAT has no opponents. It is only the police who have tried to prevent JAT from delivering its sermons.