Police officer stand guards an area following an explosion after police arrested a suspected terrorist in Sibolga, North…
A police officer stands guard after the arrest of a suspected terrorist in Sibolga, North Sumatra province, Indonesia, March 12, 2019. Photo by Antara Foto.

JAKARTA/WASHINGTON - Authorities in Jakarta say they have arrested 74 people on suspicion of terrorism and membership in the Jamaah Ansarud Daulah (JAD) group, which is affiliated with the Islamic State terror group, in a series of counterterrorism operations across Indonesia in the past week.

The suspects were apprehended during several anti-terror operations in 10 provinces after the Nov. 13 suicide bombing of a police station in Medan, in North Sumatra, National Police Chief Idham Azis said. The majority of the arrests, 30, were made in North Sumatra.

“In addition to revealing the identity of the suicide bombers, the Indonesian National Police has also arrested 74 suspects linked to a terror network in 10 regional areas within eight days of the incident,” Azis told lawmakers Wednesday during a meeting of Commission III of the House of Representatives of the Republic of Indonesia.

Members of police forensic team inspect the site of a bombing attack at the local police headquarters in Medan, North Sumatra,…
FILE - Members of police forensic team inspect the site of a bombing attack at the local police headquarters in Medan, North Sumatra, Indonesia, Nov. 13, 2019.

The police headquarters attack in Medan last week reportedly injured six people and killed the bomber. Indonesian police did not immediately release the identity of the bomber, but said its investigations revealed that he had links to a local network of the JAD group.

In another incident last month, in Pandeglang regency of Banten province, a JAD-affiliated man stabbed chief security minister Wiranto during a public gathering. Wiranto survived the attack, but the incident rang alarms in the country with President Joko Widodo, who ordered more security and a crackdown on JAD.

JAD a terrorist organization

JAD was founded in 2015 and was designated in 2017 as a terrorist organization by the United States for its connections to IS. Its leader, Aman Abdurrahman, was sentenced to death last year for masterminding terror attacks and helping set up a jihadi training camp in Aceh province.

According to the U.S. Treasury Department, Abdurrahman pledged allegiance to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in early 2014 and served as the group’s main translator, disseminating information online from jail, including IS’s call for Muslims to kill Westerners indiscriminately. He acted as the de facto leader of IS supporters in Indonesia, and instructed associates to travel to Syria to join the IS jihadists.

Islamic cleric Aman Abdurrahman arrives at a court ahead of his verdict in Jakarta, Indonesia, June 22, 2018, in this photo…
FILE - Islamic cleric Aman Abdurrahman arrives at court ahead of his verdict in Jakarta, Indonesia, June 22, 2018, in this photo by Antara Foto.

Focus on prevention

Despite the recent attacks by the group, police chief Azis said security forces have successfully reduced the terror attacks by 58% in the country, from 19 incidents in 2018 to eight this year. He added that police this year have arrested about 275 terrorism suspects in the country, many of whom he said have been radicalized through social media.

In a separate meeting with the Indonesian parliament Thursday, Suhardi Alius, the country’s National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT) chief, said his government needs to focus on preventive measures in addition to using law enforcement in combatting terrorism and extremism.

Alius said BNPT, along with the Ministry of Law and Human Rights, is working to provide counseling for inmates who hold terrorist views and to ensure extremist ideology is contained in the prisons.

“It has started with the revitalization of prisons on the counseling of terrorism prisoners based on classification, so that gradually the development of terrorist prisoners can be centralized and they no longer mix with regular inmates,” Alius added.

He said BNPT in 2016 submitted a list of 600 former terrorists who had denounced their extremist ideology to the Ministry of Home Affairs. The former terror members will be counseled and fostered, instead of being exiled, he said.

Rise in radicalism

Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation, has witnessed a rise in radicalization over the years along with occasional terrorist attacks.

A string of bombings by al-Qaida-linked Jemaah Islamiah in 2002 on the tourist island of Bali killed 202 people. The rise of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and the Maute group, in neighboring Philippines, in later years drew hundreds of Indonesians to migrate abroad to join the extremist groups.