Terrorism links in Indonesia point to militaryDENPASAR, Bali - Last month's bombing of the Australian Embassy in Jakarta and next week's anniversary of the 2002 bombings in Bali are reminders of the serious terrorism threat in the world's largest predominantly Muslim nation. The victory of former general Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono as Indonesia's first directly elected president raises hopes of tougher moves against terror, based on his resume as a former security minister who oversaw counter-terrorism efforts and his military background.
It also raises issues of military reform. Some believe Yudhoyono has the ability to reform the Indonesian armed forces, despite his military ties; others say he did practically nothing in this regard during his three years as security and defense minister.
Yudhoyono's election will likely accelerate US efforts to renew its partnership with Indonesia's armed forces and rescind its ban on military aid because of human-rights abuses, convinced as it is that the military is a key part of any terrorism solution. Yet that belief requires ignoring evidence that the military encouraged radical religious violence largely responsible for creating Indonesia's terrorism problem.
The top authority on terrorism in Indonesia is weary of providing answers. In response to an e-mail query about links between Indonesia's military and terrorism, Sidney Jones of the International Crisis Group (ICG) wrote, "Sorry, but there are so many things wrong in the way you outline your assumptions that it would take too long to correct before going on to comments." Those assumptions consign people looking for direct links to a group Jones dismisses as "conspiracy theorists", even though ICG's own research identifies numerous Indonesian military links to terrorist violence.
Certainly, there's no evidence that military personnel planted the Bali bombs, but there's no doubt it planted the seeds that produced those bombers and their successors. Radical Islam may provide the motivation for terrorism, but Indonesia's armed forces repeatedly supplied the opportunity and means.
Violence against civilians for political purposes has long been part of Indonesia's military arsenal. Under the dwi fungsi (dual function) doctrine of former president Suharto's New Order, the army played a vital role in politics in addition to national defense. At the top, staff officers such as Yudhoyono played leading policy roles. Down the line, territorial commands acted as local political enforcers for the authoritarian regime, coercing people into supporting Suharto's iron-fisted leadership. Sometimes soldiers themselves terrorized civilians, and sometimes they outsourced, generally to secular thugs, as in East Timor.
But the military also has used Islamic radicals for political purposes. At the dawn of military rule in 1965, the junta tapped Muslim organizations to help kill hundreds of thousands of alleged communists. Suharto subsequently suppressed Islam except in its mildest forms to prevent religious figures from challenging his authority. Before the 1977 elections, generals duped radical Muslims into reviving the militia group Darul Islam. The regime then arrested leaders of the revival to discredit the Islamic political party. The crackdown and trials continued through the 1982 election. Suharto resigned in disgrace in 1998 after security forces shot unarmed demonstrators, then failed to quell subsequent rioting in Jakarta's Chinatown that left hundreds dead. (There's been no credible investigation into allegations that Suharto's military instigated those riots, one of many conspiracy theories popular in Indonesia.) Elections in June 1999 produced a reformist president, Abdurrahman Wahid, who tried to curb the armed forces' political influence.
Coincidentally, there was a surge of violence around the archipelago from which the military (TNI, for Tentara Nasional Indonesia) stood to benefit both politically - as guardian of national stability - and materially, by supplying arms to combatants and collecting protection money from affected civilians and businesses. Radical Islamic thugs even were recruited into graft wars between police and the military, which had been under the same command during the Suharto era. Groups such as the Islamic Defenders Front denounced vice then ransacked nightspots that failed to pay off their uniformed sponsors. White-robed vigilantes smashing liquor bottles garnered extensive media coverage, but no punishment, helping to establish a climate that made religious violence seem not just acceptable but attractive and even heroic.
Friends of Laksar Jihad
ICG and other sources found military links galore in clashes between Christians and Muslims in Central Sulawesi and the Malukus that began in 1999 and killed thousands. Islamic militia group Laksar Jihad received military training and supplies as it recruited thousands of warriors for the Muslim side, expanding and escalating local skirmishes. Top military commanders ignored presidential orders to stop jihadis and arms from reaching conflict zones.
Jemaah Islamiya (JI), the allegedly al-Qaeda-linked group blamed for the bombings in Bali, the Jakarta Marriott in August 2003 and the Australian Embassy last month, also used the Malukus as a proving ground for its own fighters, much as al-Qaeda's key members gained battlefield experience fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan.
ICG and other experts, such as Simmons College Professor Zachary Abuza, insist there were no links between the Laksar Jihad and JI militias in the Malukus and Central Sulawesi, and therefore conclude there was no link between JI and the TNI. That argument misses the point. The military stoked communal conflicts that created fertile ground for the growth of radical Islam in general and JI in particular. Abuza concedes: "TNI may have turned a blind eye to them [JI], but these are sins of omission rather than commission." Without the military's acquiescence, JI would not have gained its foothold in Indonesia.
In addition to intensified sectarian strife, Indonesia suffered repeated bombings during Wahid's term. Many blasts preceded Suharto's scheduled court appearances on corruption charges that were ultimately dropped because of his alleged poor health. A September 2000 car bomb at the Jakarta Stock Exchange killed 15. Arrests nabbed only minor figures, including two members of the military's elite Kopassus commandos.
On Christmas Eve 2000, bombers targeted 38 churches and priests in 11 cities across the archipelago, killing 19 people (including some clumsy bombers) and wounding 120. ICG detailed JI connections to the plot in a December 2002 report. ICG also uncovered apparent links to armed forces in Medan, North Sumatra, where local JI and TNI forces clashed with separatist rebels from GAM (Gerakan Aceh Merdeka, or Free Aceh Movement) in neighboring Aceh. After running though various possible explanations, ICG's report concluded:
But it is hard to avoid the suspicion that someone in the armed forces must have known that at least the Medan part [of the Christmas Eve bombing plot] was in the works ... ICG believes that if operational structure of the Medan bombings can be uncovered, the truth between the grenade attack on the Malaysian Embassy of 27 August 2000 and the 13 September 2000 bombing of the Jakarta Stock Exchange - both attributed to GAM - may come to light.GAM denied any role in those plots, and there's been no conclusive investigation into those cases. But ICG changed its tune. So did TNI.
After the Bali bombs killed 202, most of them Western tourists, military leaders tried to stuff the radical Islam genie back into the bottle. Within days, Laksar Jihad announced it would withdraw its jihadis and disband. Military transport ships conveniently arrived to remove thousands of Islamic fighters from the Malukus. Since the outsiders' withdrawal, religious fighting still flares sporadically, but it's short-lived, with casualties in the handfuls, not the hundreds.
Before and during the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, the US Embassy in Jakarta was the site of large, violent protests. Radical Islamic groups threatened to "sweep" Westerners out of the country, and sound trucks rolled around expatriate enclaves in Jakarta broadcasting these threats. Since the Bali bombing, the US-led invasion of Iraq and subsequent occupation there have been only a few quiet protests and no public threats against Westerners. The muted reaction doesn't reflect changes in public opinion. A US government survey found that more than 60% of Indonesians had a favorable view of the United States in early 2002; a year later, protesters stayed home, even though favorable responses had plummeted to 15%.
The change that really matters is that the authorities no longer tolerate leaders of violent Muslim fringe groups issuing threats and acting with impunity. JI's alleged spiritual leader Abu Bakar Ba'asyir was arrested just after the Bali bombing and has remained in jail since.
The Bali tragedy wasn't all that changed TNI's outlook. Wahid was impeached in July 2001. Even though his successor Megawati Sukarnoputri was the leading figure of reform, and her father, founding president Sukarno, had been ousted and humiliated by Suharto and the military, she proved a compliant and cooperative figure for New Order holdovers. So the military lost its motivation for destabilizing the country.
The blast at Jakarta's Marriott Hotel in August last year and the embassy bombing, two days ahead of the third anniversary of the September 11, 2001, attacks and 11 days before the runoff to decide July's presidential election, indicate that radical Islamic forces in Indonesia have become strong enough to withstand the loss of military tolerance and patronage.
There may be more coincidence than evidence linking Indonesia's military to terrorists. But sticklers for direct links should consider this: approximately 300 deaths attributed to JI operations in Indonesia are a tiny fraction of the civilian death toll at the hands of TNI and its minions since 1999. Fighting terrorism in Indonesia must begin with identifying the real threat, instead of ignoring it or, worse, blindly trying to renew aid to the military without insisting on reforms.
Gary LaMoshi, a longtime editor of investor rights advocate eRaider.com, has also contributed to Slate and Salon.com. He has worked as a broadcast producer and as a print writer and editor in the United States and Asia. He moved to Hong Kong in 1995 and now splits his time between there and Indonesia.