Indonesia's Detachment 88, the archipelago's elite black-clad antiterrorism police unit, should look into developing procedures to capture violent jihadi militants alive, argues the International Crisis Group (ICG) in a report released this week.
The nongovernmental conflict resolution organization said that the unit's missions often end up with its jihadi militants killed rather than captured and interrogated for intelligence. But the ICG stopped short of criticizing the unit, which has been applauded for aggressively bringing the fight to violent jihadi groups. As a U.S. Special Forces combat veteran told Asia Times investigative reporter John McBeth, Detachment 88 officers have their hands full with jihadi terrorists.
"These are soldiers of God," he said. "If they are cornered, they have the will and the means to kill as many as they can before being killed themselves."
The recommendation to develop nonlethal responses to active shooter situations comes after the unit killed the jihadist Dulmatin, the alleged mastermind of the 2002 Bali bombings, which killed 202 people, and leader of "al Qaeda Indonesia in Aceh," in a Internet cafe on the outskirts of Jakarta in early March. As Detachment 88 officers stormed the building, according to ICG, Dulmatin shot at them and the officers returned fire, killing him. A little more than a half-mile away, his two bodyguards were also killed in a separate raid. (That Dulmatin was felled by Detachment 88 bullets seems like symmetry; the unit was established with Australian and U.S. assistance in the aftermath of the jihadist's alleged role in the 2002 Bali bombings.)
Detachment 88 has a long history of bringing out jihadis in bodybags rather than in handcuffs, reports ICG. Last September, Detachment 88 also killed Noordin Top, another jihadi mastermind allegedly behind the subsequent Bali bombings in 2005 as well as the July 2009 suicide bombings against Jakarta's JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels.
(For more on the July 2009 hotel bombings, read "How Security Missed the Jakarta Suicide Bombings.")
"Eight men were killed out of some 50 arrested this time; nine were killed out of some 25 arrested after the July 2009 bombings," the ICG reports. "The percentage of arrests to deaths may be improving, but it still raises the question of whether more training in how to handle active shooters could reduce the ratio further."
ICG worries Detachment 88's killing of Dulmatin means Indonesian authorities continue to lose opportunities to learn more about jihadist groups within the archipelago.
"Just as with the aftermath of the July 2009 hotel bombings, when Noordin Top, his Yemen-trained deputy, Syaifudin Jaelani, and several others were killed, the deaths of key figures this time meant that valuable information was lost," the report says.
According to the ICG, Dulmatin led a new jihadist terrorist organization based in the Aceh territory of Indonesia and, more importantly, assembled from various jihadi groups. His "Al Qaeda Indonesia in Aceh” disapproved of both Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), the leading jihadist organization in Southeast Asia, which it believed had abandoned jihad, and Top's violent JI splinter group, which it thought used violence indiscriminately. Dulmatin's organization instead sought to wield jihad as a way to defeat democracy and establish sharia law throughout Indonesia. Rather than rely on Top's indiscriminate bombings, Dulmatin's group would use targeted assassinations of civilian officials and security forces. In this case, jihad was not an end in and of itself, but rather a means to an Islamist state.
For the ICG, this means jihadism in Indonesia cannot simply be defeated through law enforcement action.
"Jihadi groups do not disappear after waves of arrests; they evolve and mutate, taking on new forms," the report states. "The killing of a Noordin here or a Dulmatin there does not eliminate the ideology of salafi jihadism; in fact the perceived 'martyrdom' of a few leaders can give the movement new life."
GO DEEPER: For more information on Detachment 88, watch this video from Al Jazeera English's 101 East.
♦ Photo of Dulmatin by Rewards for Justice