Recidivism in Indonesia: Peering Through the lens of Desistance from Terrorism

Though investigations are ongoing, the motive of the perpetrator, a recidivist, seemed largely ideological. Desistance from Terrorism offers a more comprehensive approach to preventing recidivism. CREDITS: Instagram/@cnr14_14


Suicide bombing attacks are often used by terror groups as a tactic to attack their targets. Explosives are usually placed on the perpetrator’s body and detonated at a target location or near intended victims. In Indonesia, this tactic is commonly used by Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) and Jemaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD), both terrorist groups. Notably, suicide bombings have become increasingly widespread after the emergence of the Islamic State (IS) and its affiliated groups such as JAD.

Originally, such attacks in Indonesia were aimed at far enemies; the United States and its allies. However, such targets became less viable due to increasing challenges such as tightening of security. This led to a shift to more accessible targets, particularly those preventing them from achieving their goals. Unsurprisingly, Indonesia’s National Police (Polri) is on top of their target list. Consequently, Polri has lost officers and its infrastructures damaged due to this crime.

On Wednesday (07/12), Polri was once again targeted via a suicide bombing on the Astana Anyar Sector Police (Polsek) headquarters while officers were carrying out morning routine. There were two fatalities, the perpetrator and an officer, and a total of nine injured officers. This attack was not spontaneously conducted. Instead, it was carefully planned through numerous surveys. This is evident from the time chosen to conduct the attack. Understanding the routine at the headquarters meant higher likelihood of inflicting significant damage.

Perpetrator and Motives

Through investigations, the 35-year-old male perpetrator was a terrorist recidivist. His main motive could be ideological based on collected evidence. This included a motorcycle bearing a message against the Revised Criminal Code.

There are only a handful of similar cases in the past revealing an ideological motive. In 2021, a female youth who attacked the National Police Headquarters was found to have a note revealing her ideological motive. Apart from demonstrating their ideological existence, particularly after the fall of IS in Syria and Iraq, this inhuman way is also a propaganda tool for recruitment into terrorist groups.

Why are Former Terrorists Reengaging in Violence?

Terrorism can be viewed through a Triple H approach, namely “heaven”, “home”, and “habit.” “Heaven” entails the religious legitimization of violence conferring afterworld rewards to perpetrators. “Home” is the actor’s relationship with family members. Here, “home” is a double-edged sword: relationships can help ex-terrorists remain deradicalized or it can drive them back to violence. “Habit” can be understood as habits, environmental influences, and networks that can influence a former terrorist actor towards recidivism.

Largely, former inmates of general crimes would be deterred from reoffending upon their release. This is due to the deterrent effect of imprisonment and the inmates adopting positive behaviours. Unlike general crimes, terrorism is driven by ideology. Indonesian terrorists believe that the criminal justice system they live in, including punishments in correctional institutions, is part of their “holy” struggle. Conversely, the regulations governing the criminalization of terrorists in Law no. 5 of 2018 only regulate criminal acts of terrorism based on their actions, not their pro-violent ideology. It is, thus, unsurprising when former terrorism inmates continue to espouse such ideology after their release.

Many countries generally use two approaches to terrorists from reoffending, namely deradicalization and disengagement. Deradicalization focuses on changing their ideology, while disengagement focuses more on social settings which have implications for their behavior. The author has proposed a new approach called Desistance from Terrorism to study how a person can escape from the snares of terror and -ism.

Desistence can be interpreted as the stage where a criminal stops committing crimes. There are two forms of desistance, namely primary desistance and secondary desistance. Primary desistance can be interpreted as a change in a person’s behavior to stop being a criminal. Not only is this temporary, there is still no clear measurement of the point at which a person stops. Secondary desistance is defined as the process of criminal taking on the role of non-perpetrators of crime. This entails a more permanent change as it requires criminals to constantly evaluate their attitudes.

Taking a leave from secondary desistance, Desistence from Terrorism looks at multi-factors about a person’s potential to stop being a terrorist. These factors consist of three channels, the first channel contains parameters regarding basic needs, narratives and networks. The second channel is the core channel which consists of family, self-introspection, maturity, economic activity, and deterrence. While the third channel consists of trust in the law, integration, social relations, and situational opportunities. When these three channels are not adequately addressed, the perpetrators will likely return to committing acts of terror.

Based on this and what has been gathered thus far, there were numerous factors that were inadequately addressed which led to the perpetrator conducting the attack on the Astana Anyar Polsek headquarters. These factors include the ideological narrative which is still pro-violence, unmet basic needs, failure to reintegrate into society and continued links with terrorist networks. Therefore, Desistance from Terrorism is a more comprehensive tool to facilitating a long-lasting change in former terrorists.

Recommendations for Stakeholders

As this attack refocuses attention to terrorism, more should be done to ensure public safety. To facilitate this, there are three policy recommendations. The first is for law enforcement agencies, especially the National Police, to immediately strengthen their premises’ security throughout Indonesia (target hardening). This is because of the potential of this attack to trigger similar actions in other regions. Improving security can be done by using crime prevention via a situational approach.

Additionally, it is crucial for stakeholders responsible for intervention to identify the ideological motives of perpetrators. Such interventions must also be tailored specifically to the needs of each perpetrator. Recognizing the need for large resources, civil societies would play a crucial supportive role in this endeavor. Finally, there is a need to increase public awareness and to co-opt them into the fight against terrorism in Indonesia. The recent attack highlights the real threat of terrorism in the country. Terrorism is not a ploy engineered by the authorities but is a social problem continues to exist.  Anyone can potentially become a victim of terrorism, not only security forces because acts of terror occur unexpectedly.

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

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