NEWS

Indonesian Jihadists Embrace Small Cells and Targeted Attacks

By Matthew Harwood

The Indonesian government must quickly develop prevention strategies to combat a new trend toward low-cost, small-scale terrorist attacks committed by tiny decentralized cells of jihadis, according to an international nongovernmental organization.

The recommendation made in a report (.pdf) issued this week by the International Crisis Group (ICG) comes after a suicide bomber blew himself up inside a police station mosque last week in Cirebon, wounding 30, including the Cirebon chief of police, according to The Jakarta Post.

Rather than engaging in large, spectacular attacks that kill Muslim civilians and hurt their popularity, Indonesian jihadis have embraced small cells and targeted assassinations, mainly of police officers in retaliation for counterterrorism operations.

The trend toward small groups of jihadis conspiring to commit quick, low-cost attacks in the world’s largest Muslim country is the product of two forces, according to ICG.

One reason for the embrace of “individualistic” attacks owes to security forces’ successful counterterrorist policing strategies against larger terrorist organizations, such as Jemaah Islamiyah.

“Since the 2009 hotel bombings in Jakarta and the break-up of a militant training camp in Aceh in February 2010, extremists have been pushed back and cells dismantled to the point that it is much safer to operate in small groups and hit squads than in more structured organisations,” the ICG report explains.  

But pragmatism has also dove-tailed with ideological evolution.

According to ICG, there are two main strains of jihadism--organized and individual. Currently in Indonesia, individual jihad--or jihad fardiyah--has become popular. “Jihad fardiyah...says that if jihad is defensive in nature, such that war becomes an individual obligation for Muslims, no leader or organisation is necessary: children can wage war without their parents’ permission, wives without their husbands’.”

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