Change in Terrorism Landscape in Indonesia

Dian Yulia Novi seated beside her husband during their trial for a terrorism charge in 2017. Credit: AP photo/Achmad Ibrahmin

Indonesian Women & Terrorism: A Two-Part Analysis (Part 2)

When Abu Bakar Al Baghdadi declared a caliphate based in Iraq and Syria in 2013, Islamist militants in Indonesia were disappointed with JI and their affiliates. This disappointment stemmed from the failure to achieve similar successes in Indonesia despite the time and resources invested. Their yearning to participate in “jihad” reignited their ambitions to establish Indonesia as an Islamic state. It was, thus, an easy option for many including those from JI to switch allegiance and setting up an ISIS franchise in Indonesia in 2014. With reignited ambition, the group held weekly long marches in the main roads of Jakarta to announce their presence in Indonesia and to recruit new members.

However, in the early stages of this new movement, masculinity still predominated in this group. This was evident as participants of these long marches and in oath or bayat swearing ceremonies were males. Females were still restricted from participating in “jihad” as seen from the 2016 bombing in Central Jakarta. Perpetrators of this attack were all males. However, one key difference with JI, ISIS Indonesia eventually accepted women’s involvement in their group.

One key driver is that globally, women were unafraid of expressing their intents of participating in “jihad qital” without concealing their gender. This inspired Indonesian women to do the same so as to not be left behind. Social media, thus, became an effective tool to recruit women and for their subsequent bayat swearing. Towards the end of 2016, ISIS permitted women to actively participate in their jihadi movement. This expanded women’s role from the household to the “battlefield.” In December 2016, the arrest of Dian Yulia Novi cemented her as the first women in Indonesia to be “permitted” to being directly involved in an attack. She was instructed by the group to conduct a suicide bombing at the Indonesian Presidential Palace.

Dian, however, was not the only nor the first Indonesian women who supported ISIS. Previously, Indonesian women such as Tutin Sugiarti, a former migrant worker in Taiwan have expressed their loyalty to ISIS. Additionally, Tutin was responsible for motivating Dian to become a martyr and for introducing her to facilitators by matchmaking Dian to an ISIS member.

In addition to being permitted to participate in “jihad”, the group enabled women to decide how to do so. This further expanded their roles to include fundraising, propaganda creators, campaigners, and recruiters. Examples of other Indonesian women include Ika Puspitasari (foiled suicide bomber), Aisha Lina Kamelya (creator of a pro-ISIS channel on Telegram), and Ratna Nirmala (persuaded her husband to migrate the family to Syria). It is also notable that a pro-ISIS group in Indonesia established a business front known as “Umahat Aseer’s Kitchen” to raise funds for terrorism activities. Despite the expansion of roles, women still do not enjoy the same access as men in the group. Planning of attacks still remained a men’s domain. Women were to also abide by men’s decisions. However, this was not to last as the terrorism landscape in Indonesia encountered another shift marked by the 2018 Surabaya bombing.

From “the Backyard to the Dining Room”

The bombings of three churches in Surabaya on May 2018 changed the face of terrorism in Indonesia. Pro-ISIS groups in Indonesia adopted a novel tactic of using entire families including their children to conduct attacks. Prior to this attack, children have been involved with terrorism since 2016. This includes the arrest of Fakri (mapping police posts as potential targets), Ivan Armadi Hasugian (church bombing in Medan), and Ridho Pratama (bombing in Samarinda). Ostensibly, these cases eased the use of entire families for attacks. Shortly after the Surabaya bombing, three families were involved in suicide bombing attacks.

The use of this tactic was not entirely accepted within the pro-ISIS movement in Indonesia. The de facto ISIS Indonesia leader was against the tactic while the ISIS leader in West Java supported the tactic and left it to the family to plan their actions. Apart from the change in modus operandi, it is worrying that this tactic involves both teenagers and underaged children who do not understand their involvements.

Several reasons have been cited to permit the involvement of such underaged individuals:

  1. The difficulty of conducting preventive intervention for such families as families are considered to be private spaces that cannot be interfered with.
  2. The parents wished for their children to enter heaven as a family regardless of whether their children agreed or disagreed with their parent’s worldview.
  3. The parents intend to protect their children from stigmatization and bullying that surviving family members of terrorism perpetrators faced. Rather than experiencing such lifelong burdens, the parents believe that their children’s involvement is the best option.
  4. The parents worry that their children will be raised in a manner that they do not agree if their children did not participate in the suicide attacks. Involving their children in attacks negates this worry.

The bombings in Surabaya, Sidoarjo and Sibolga also signifies the change in women’s position in radical movements. Women now hold an equal position as men, no longer are they seen as impediments. This is because pro-ISIS groups in Indonesia support gender equality and gender mainstreaming in terrorism. Such equality is not only limited to adults but also applies to children with certain caveat. Although children are invited to participate in violence, their involvements generally involve adults. In Indonesia, it is still rare for children and teenagers to conduct lone wolf attacks which entails being solely responsible for planning to executing the attack. Challenges for such lone wolf attacks include access to resources, conviction to carry out the entire process, and the cognitive ability to plan. Despite the limited cases, violence conducted by children and teenagers in Indonesia are solely perpetrated by males. There have yet to be documented cases of lone wolf attacks by female children or teenagers.

The Role of Gender in Preventing and Countering Terrorism in Indonesia

In Indonesia, women are actively contributing to efforts at preventing terrorism. Being involved as either individuals or part of organizations, these women not only played supportive roles but many have spearheaded such efforts. Additionally, there are now programmes that target women from participating in terrorism. Fatayat NU is an example of a mass organization that is actively involved in such programmes in the community. Their programmes include religious education by female Islamic scholars or ulama, increasing the capacities of female Islamic teachers or ustazah, and developing the capabilities of female branch members to arrest radical movements at the grassroot levels.

Unfortunately, the involvement of women in counterterrorism efforts are still lacking, particularly at strategic levels and stages prior to terrorists being sentenced in court. The roles of male and female officers are balanced post-sentencing and post-release of these terrorists. There are many female prison officers who are not only responsible for managing female inmates but also males. Similarly, many female parole officers are responsible for both female and male releasees.

Away from these roles, women are not involved in surveillance operations even if the alleged perpetrators are women. Surveillance operations are conducted solely by male intelligence officers. This is similarly encountered during apprehension of terrorist suspects. Again, male officers are responsible for making the arrests despite the suspects being female. This is largely due to Detachment 88 (D88), the Indonesia’s special counterterrorism unit, is male-dominated. Female officers are usually involved during the female suspects court hearings. These roles are “domestic” in the sense that they are to care for their female suspects as they undergo their hearings. These roles include guarding and protecting these suspects.

Lastly, the rising threat of Indonesian women in terrorism not only necessitates the involvement but also the leadership of women in Indonesia’s National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT) and D88. Currently, many strategic positions in these organizations are helmed by men. The inclusion of women will enable a women-centric approach to prevent women from participating in terrorism and managing women convicted of terrorism in Indonesia.

Part 1: Women in The Early Era of Terrorism in Indonesia

The views expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of STRAT.O.SPHERE CONSULTING PTE LTD.

This article is published under a Creative Commons Licence. Republications minimally require 1) credit authors and their institutions, and 2) credit to STRAT.O.SPHERE CONSULTING PTE LTD  and include a link back to either our home page or the article URL.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *