The arrest of two university students in Central Java on terrorism charges two weeks ago – following a wave of arrests in recent months – highlights several trends regarding Indonesia’s evolving terrorist threat.
First, as a recent International Crisis Group report argued, there are now at least three jihadi streams in the country.
One is the “mainstream” Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) that teaches jihad, advocates military training, but says the faithful currently lack the resources to take on the enemy and therefore should focus on building their ranks through religious outreach.
Another is the splinter group, previously led by the late Noordin Top, which tends to be more violent and focus on suicide bombings targeting Western interests.
Finally, as the recent terror arrests in Aceh and Java suggest, a new group has emerged, representing a coalition of individuals from various factions (including JI, Darul Islam and Kompak) who have grown disillusioned with the first two groups.
These men, initially led by the late Dulmatin, believed that while jihad could be applied now, it should be done as a means to establish Islamic law and should therefore use “targeted assassinations” as a tactic to minimise Muslim casualties – a departure from the Noordin-style indiscriminate suicide bombings.
Such permutations underscore the adaptive capability of local jihadi groups that often baffles the Indonesian authorities, who are still trying to keep up with the growing network while facing constraints in resources. It also serves as a stark reminder once again that Indonesia’s terror threat is not straightforward, nor is it all about JI.