Jemaah Islamiyah – Critical Discussion of Tactics and Threats


The concept of using violence to achieve a certain aim is not new. A prime example is the tactics used by the Mongol armies in their conquest. However, the use of such tactics would not be classified as terrorism. Terrorism is sometimes mistaken with guerrilla warfare, as both tend to use the same tactics. The main difference between these two concepts, however, is the motivation behind these tactics. Guerrilla warfare is defined as “A small independent group fighting against the government or regular forces.” The Oxford dictionary defines terrorism as “the use of intimidation and violence in the pursuit of political aims.” Thus, terrorists can target corporations or foreign governments as well as the national government, while guerrilla fighters target just the national government. This is what makes terrorism so dangerous; all bodies and institutions can be targeted, thereby denying the concept of innocents.

The world’s attention was directed towards the threat from terrorism after the attack on the World Trade Centre in New York City on 11 September 2001, now known as the 9/11 attack. The 9/11 attack was not the first terrorist attack in the world; however, it had resounding impact on the world as it highlighted how devastating such an attack could be. Combined with this was the fact that the targets were indiscriminate, with not only US citizens but citizens of foreign countries also killed in the attack. What made the attack more shocking was that it was not organized and committed by US radicals, but by an organisation on the other side of the world. It was discovered that this organisation was international in character. The world learned that a terrorist group on the other side of the world could be just as dangerous to foreign countries as they are for the host country. Terrorism had become a global problem.

This paper will look at a small terrorist group that is little known globally, but which is having an impact in South East Asia. It is also rumoured to have played a small part in the 9/11 attacks. This makes them an excellent example of a small organisation operating in what is considered to be a developing part of the world, which poses a danger to developed countries thousands of kilometres away. This group is known as Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) and operates mainly in Indonesia.

Indonesia Today

Before beginning the discussion on JI, it is necessary to provide a context in Indonesia (figure 1iv) for JI’s existence, choices and operations.

Indonesia Political history

Indonesia had been a Dutch colony since the 17th century. During World War 2 it was occupied by the Empire of the Rising Sun (Japan) from 1942 to 1945. At the end of the war, and with Japan’s surrender, it reverted to the Netherlands. However, the people of Indonesia had had enough of foreign rulers and wanted their independence: an independence that would not come easily and would take four more years to realise. The four year period from 1946 to 1949 was marked by negotiations between the people of Indonesia and the government of the Netherlands. It took UN mediation as well as recurring outbreaks of violence against Dutch control before the government of the Netherland’s finally decided to grant Indonesia their independence. What followed would be fifty years of dictatorial rule that ended with the overthrow of Suharto in 1998 and the first real parliamentary elections in 1999.

Indonesian society and geography

The geography of Indonesia plays a significant role in the success of JI and in the failure of the government to contain them. Indonesia is the world’s largest archipelago state and, as such, is made up of 17,508 islands covering an area of 1,919,440 square kilometres. The difficulty in controlling such a large amount of islands allows JI a significant amount of manoeuvrability; manoeuvrability that terror groups of mainland nations do not enjoy. It is also one of the reasons for JI’s continued success and existence in Indonesia.

The islands have a combined population of 240,271,522 people according to the 2009 statistics, and approximately 70% of the population live outside the cities and can thus be classified as rural. The population is split into around eight ethnic groups, with Javanese making 40.6% of the total population. The most interesting part of the Indonesian social framework is that Muslims account for 86.1% of all Indonesians, with Christianity making up 8.7% (Protestantism 5.7% and Roman Catholicism 3%) and Hinduism around 3% of the population. It is important, when looking at the goals of JI later in this article, to note that this large Muslim nation was ruled by a Christian power. Another interesting fact is that the Muslim community in Indonesia is divided. There is a conflict between the orthodox Muslims and a branch of Islam that is a mixture of local religions and Islam, sometimes called Javanism.

The divide between the two groups has its origins in the twelfth century and it is still a factor today. What makes this divide interesting is that it sheds light on the overtly Indonesian-based mentality of most of the terror groups that operate in the region. Thus, while this divide does not separate groups like JI from their international counterparts, it may form one of the reasons for the JI not having such close ties to their international counterparts.

Economically Indonesia is doing well for a third world nation. It has an average growth rate of 5.9%, a GDP of $496.8 billion and a GDP per capita of $3.900. The largest economic activity sector is the industrial sector. This sector employs 45.6% of the 112 million workers in Indonesia. Indonesia has a relatively low unemployment rate of 8.2%, and 17.8% of the total population lives under the poverty line.


According to these statistics Indonesia would appear to be doing well for a developing nation. However, it will be interesting to note how the current global economic downturn will affect Indonesia, especially considering the facts that the vast majority of its population is rural and that nearly 20% of the population lives under the poverty line. If the numbers of those impoverished increase, it would be a catalyst for great social discontent – something which radical groups might well exploit for their own agendas.This is the context that JI finds itself in today.

Jemaah Islamiyah Begins

Jemaah Islamiyah (variously referred to as, Jemaah Islamiya, Jemaah Islamiah or Jemaah Islamiyahh), which in Arabic means Islamic group or community. There is confusion concerning the dates for the rise of JI, as the name Jemaah Islamiyah was first used in the 1970s. The problem is that it is unclear whether this was a formal group or just a name given to a group of like is a terrorist group operating in South East Asia, with its main roots in Indonesia. JI is a Muslim radical group whose main goal is the creation of an Islamic State in South East Asia-minded Muslim radicals. Further, JI changed course in the early 1990s, leading to the belief that JI was founded around this time. JI was therefore founded either in 1969/1970 or 1992/3.

abu bakar
Abu Bakar Ba’asyir

However, all the sources agree that JI has its roots in a radical Islamist group called Darul Islam that emerged after Indonesia obtained its independence in the 1940s. Darul Islam would have a significant impact on the goals of JI, but these will be discussed later. JI as it is today was founded by Abu Bakar Ba’asyir (Figure 2xxiv) (sometimes also referred to as Abdullah Sungkar) in the 1990s. However, by then Abu Bakar already had a history of belonging to terrorist groups. Being a Muslim cleric, he created a pesetren (a religious school) called Pondok Ngruki in 1972. During this period he was a member of Darul Islam and had already developed his objectives, which would later become the goals of the JI. In 1978 he was arrested by the Indonesian government for activities against the government of the dictator Suharto. On his release/escape he fled to Malaysia’s Indonesian expatriate community, where he continued his work.


JI, was created by Abu Bakar initially in order to overthrow Suharto’s rule, had its principles laid out in their founding document called Pedoman Umum Perjuangan al-Jama’ah al-Islamiyyah, meaning “The general guide book for the struggle Jemaah Islamiyah.” It was also at this time that JI changed their tactics. Until the early 1990s, the group was very vocal in its ideals but very rarely undertook violent acts. However, at this time Abu Bakar met Riduan Isamuddin, also known as Hambali (Figure 3), at the religious school that Abu Bakar had created; following which Hambali became the military leader and Abu Bakar the spiritual leader of JI. The advent of the resulting militant behaviour led most sources to believe that JI was actually founded in the 1990s. Certainly, JI’s entrance into the realm of terrorism started in the 1990s. After the collapse of Suharto’s dictatorship in 1998, Abu Bakar and Hambali returned to Indonesia, where Hambali went to ground while Abu Bakar openly advocated Jihad. They planned to use the chaos that engulfed Indonesia after the removal of Suharto’s government and the establishment of a disorganised, decentralized, democratic government.

Their return to Indonesia would mark the start of their terror activities, which would culminate in the Bali bombings of 2002, an event for which they are notorious.

Since JI’s roots were in Darul Islam, it is not surprising that JI would share goals with Darul Islam. Despite this, the founders and leaders of JI are of utmost importance. Here, two facts should be remembered since they would shape the course of the JI. Firstly, since both the founders were clerics, indications are that JI’s goals and aims are mostly religious. This also explains the selection of their first targets, namely Christian churches. However, one must not make the mistake of thinking that they only target Christians. JI targets any religious group that is not Islamic. Secondly, it is rumoured that the leaders of JI had connections with Al-Qaeda since the 1990’s. What makes this fact interesting is that it could be indicative of a measure of cooperation between the two organisations. However, questions can be asked regarding the compatibility of the goals of JI with those of Al-Qaeda. To clearly answer these questions, the goals of the JI must be understood.

The goals of Jemaah Islamiyah

It is pertinent to understand what JI hopes to achieve by its terrorist attacks, their choice of targets and how attacking

these targets aid them in achieving their ultimate goals? An analysis of these important points will aid an appreciation of the group’s raison d’etre, and determine how they plan to achieve their goals.

As stated earlier, JI had its origins in Darul Islam. The founders of JI were members of Darul Islam and logically, many of JI’s members were also former Darul Islam members. As such, Darul Islam had a large influence on JI since JI’s main goal was a direct outflow of Darul Islam’s goal. Darul Islam, which means “Abode of Islam”, had as its goal the creation of an Islamic state in Indonesia. However, the Indonesian government was able to stop Darul Islam in the 1950s, and it was another 20 years before the idea of an Islamic state would be revived by the JI.

JI’s main goal has two stages. The first stage is the continuation of the goal of Darul Islam, namely the creation of an Islamic state in Indonesia. However, JI expands this goal to a second stage that would create an Islamic state that covers the whole of South East Asia and include the countries of Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, southern Thailand and southern Philippines. This Islamic state would be ruled by Shari’ah law (Muslim religious law).

This idea of an Islamic state is not a new concept and is very similar to the philosophies that are existent in Iran today. It is clear that JI advocates a state ruled by religious rulers and not a secular state, which means that anybody that is not a Muslim or is sympathetic to the Western nations is a target of this group.

Since their main aim is the creation of a Muslim nation, it is clear that JI’s targets will have a religious connection in one way or another. However, as is the nature of such groups, this connection may not always be clear-cut. The church bombings are easy enough to connect with this goal; the Bali bombings are not. Their connection with JI’s goals is of an indirect nature and seems to have much more in common with the global nature of terrorism.

The Terror of Jemaah Islamiyah: Recruitment and Methods

There are four ways in which one can be recruited into JI. These are kinship, mosques, madrassas and friendship. People with the right ideology and talents are approached in the mosque or madrassa (form of religious school) to join the JI. The entrance requirements into the JI are unclear; however, it is clear that mosques/madrassas are used as recruiting areas for future members. Of these four recruitment methods, kinship and friendship form the main means of recruitment and also lend a rather concrete defence against infiltration by government agents, as those entering through these social or family recruitment techniques are already well known to the members of the JI. Kinship and friendship are two sides to the same coin, in the sense that when one is brought into JI by means of friendship, these ties are then strengthened by means of kinship. Kinship recruiting can be subdivided into four categories, namely: sibling, in-law, father-son and arranged marriages.

Sibling connections involve one brother, already belonging to the organisation, recruiting his other brothers into the organisation. An added benefit of this form of recruiting is that these brothers will work together on their missions for JI and give each other support and aid during the mission. Thus, the terrorist team will be more effective and secure. An example of this is that the first Bali bombing was managed and executed by two groups of brothers. Each group was responsible for a different aspect, such as bomb creation and transport.

JI recruitments are a two stage process. When a member is recruited into JI from either the mosque or madrassa, or from a connection to an existing member, the new member will then be married to the daughter or sister of another member, thereby creating a kinship connection between the individuals. As a result, JI is a group of interconnected families.

JI practices a form of sustainable development in the sense that fathers send their children (it is unclear whether daughters are also included) to the city of Karachi in Pakistan to further their education. These children form the al-Ghuraba cell, which means foreign cell. During the spring vacations these children undergo terrorist training in Afghanistan.

The underlying idea is that since the children are out of the country, they are safe from the Indonesian government. Also, should a cataclysmic raid destroy JI’s reign in Indonesia, these children will be able to reorganise and re-establish JI and continue the fight. These international cells make it more difficult for the Indonesian government to destroy JI. In addition, these children can recruit more members for JI through the friendship method, thus widening the possible recruitment base.

Another means of entering JI is a mixture of the sibling and marriage form of kinship. This simply means that when a member marries into a JI family, his siblings also become eligible for membership as they have a kinship connection with an existing member. This is really just an indirect form of the sibling connection.

The main idea behind the kinship connection is to entrench the fate of the new member’s family with that of the JI. In other words, to betray or desert JI would directly affect the whole family, including brothers, brothers-in-law or children that are still part of the organisation. This family connection also creates a very close-knit group, which discourages foreign agent infiltration into the organisation.

Over and above a kinship connection, beliefs compatible to those of the JI are a necessity for acceptance into the JI. The JI’s recruiting criteria has not been clearly established. However, logical inference would consider that possible recruits be Muslims (including Westerners that have converted to Islam), with an inclination towards radicalism and a willingness to use violence to achieve aims. The prospective recruit would also share the dream of creating an Islamic state governed by Shari’ah law in South East Asia (JI’s main goal) and be willing to sacrifice his life for this goal if need be. JI’s recruitment methods are probably similar to those of most terrorist groups in operation in the world; however, their practice of creating kinship ties between members also gives them a sense of collective well-being and the strong ties associated with families.

JI had been most active during the period between 2000 and 2005. However, after nearly five years of peace, the JI would strike Bali again in 2009. This paper will focus on four examples (case studies) of terror attacks committed by the JI. These four attacks are the church bombings in 2000, which was JI’s first widely recognized attack, and the Bali bombings of 2002, 2005 and the attack on Jakarta in 2009. The first attack clearly shows the religious nature of JI and can easily be connected with JI’s main goal, while the three attacks in Bali are interesting since they do not clearly fit into the goals of JI and have an “international” nature to them. Bali also seems to have become the main focus of the JI. The 2002 Bali bombing is their most well-known terror attack and brought them to the attention of the international community. It also placed them on the US list of terrorist organisations.

Church bombings of 2000

That Christian churches were targeted by the JI is not surprising for two reasons. Firstly, the two founders of JI were Muslim priests and, as such, they would naturally place a greater importance on religious buildings. Secondly, Christianity is the second-largest religion in Indonesia, with a following of over 8% from either the Protestant or Catholic sects, making them ideal targets. Although Hindu temples were not targeted by the bombings, it is nevertheless JI’s intention to remove both the Christians and Hindus from South East Asia.

The church attacks, which took place on 25 December 2000, killed ten people, including five police officers who tried to disarm a car bomb outside a church. The bombings targeted Christians during Christmas ceremonies, and the low death rate was due to the evacuation of many churches after the first bomb was discovered.

These attacks were important as they were the first major attacks launched by JI in furtherance of their uhud project. The goal of the uhud project, launched in 1998, is to remove Christians and Hindus from regions of Indonesia, where they are found in large numbers.

In this way, JI would achieve their aim of creating a nation that is completely Muslim. The attacks also signalled to the West that they were not welcome in Indonesia, a message that would be repeated in the Bali bombings. Lastly, this was the first large-scale terrorist attack that JI launched since its decision to use violence in the early 1990’s. One would be hard-pressed to find any attacks connected to JI that occurred before the 2000 bombings.

These attacks were, however, small in scale and did relatively little damage. JI’s next attack would be far greater and more destructive, and would etch it indelibly into the minds of the International community.

Bali Bombings

Bali is popular amongst Westerners as a tourist destination and, as such, it is not surprising that the JI seems to focus on Bali. This can clearly be seen by the fact that all but one of the terror acts committed by the JI happened in Bali. The bombing of the nightclub in Bali occurred on 12 October 2002, when a suicide bomber from JI entered a nightclub and detonated his bomb. The resulting explosion killed 202 people, including foreigners vacationing in Bali. The majority of the foreigners killed were Australian. It is also believed that JI was responsible for the terror attack in Zamboanga. This attack occurred on 17 October 2002 in the shopping district of the largely Christian community, killing 6 and wounding 150.l It has not been confirmed that JI committed the Zamboanga attack; however, the fact that it was committed in an area that is predominantly Christian would fit into the type of target that JI prefers. It is also possible that the fact that it

was a Christian dominated area was purely coincidental and that the only determining factor was that it was a busy shopping area.

The JI would strike Bali again, this time on 1 October 2005. The attack left 20 dead and between 109 and129 wounded. The attack consisted of three bombs (delivered by suicide bombers) that detonated at two different times. The first two bombs were near the Jimbaran food court and exploded at around 6:50pm. The third bomb was in the Kuta town square and detonated between 7:00pm and 7:15pm. The casualty rates were divided as follows: 15 Indonesians, 4 Australians and a Japanese national dead and 19 Australians, 6 South Koreans, 6 Americans, 4 Japanese and one Briton wounded. The rest of the wounded were Indonesians. There are three interesting facts concerning the timing of the attack. Firstly, on the same day the Indonesian government had cancelled its fuel subsidies and, as a result, fuel prices increased by 125%. Secondly, it was two days before the start of Ramadan (the Muslim holy month) and 11 days before the third anniversary of the 2002 Bali bombings. Thirdly, it occurred during the school vacation in some states of Australia and it was estimated that around 7,500 Australians were vacationing in Indonesia at the time.

Both the Indonesian and international authorities were expecting an attack to occur somewhere in Indonesia. The Australian government had issued a travel warning to its citizens not to undertake any non-essential travel to Indonesia. However, this warning was active even before the 2002 attack and, as such, was ignored by most. In May 2005, however, the US State Department issued a similar warning which should have indicated that the threat level had increased. Lastly, the Indonesian intelligence authorities where aware of a plot by JI that was believed would take place somewhere in Indonesia or the Philippines. They were, unfortunately, unable to determine the exact target or location. On 3 October 2005, an Australian radio network reported that, three days before the attack, Australian tourists had heard rumours of a planned attack. As a result, the Federal opposition leader in Australia urged the government to form closer intelligence ties with the Indonesian government.

The 2005 Bali bombings received far more news coverage than the 2002 attacks for two simple reasons. Firstly, it was the second attack in Bali and close to the date of the anniversary of first one. Secondly, the large number of Australians that died in the attack ensured that it had wide coverage in Australia. This also led to increased international coverage. However, when one compares these two attacks, the first Bali bombing seems more effective than the second due to the larger numbers of people killed or injured. Yet, the fact that the second attack received greater news coverage means that the second was more effective as a terror attack.

After the 2005 attack, Indonesia experienced a period of calm and peace. As a result, many in Indonesia started to feel that the horrors of the past were behind them. This illusion was shattered when two bombs exploded at the hotels JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton around 7:50-8:00am on 17 July 2009. Despite denying any involvement in the attack, an unexploded device found in a room in the JW Marriott hotel was established to be identical to a device found in a raid on a JI safe house. In addition, it was very similar to the devices used in the 2002 and 2005 attacks. Reports indicate that the hotels were simultaneously hit by suicide bombers who had stayed in the hotels and assembled their bombs there. Sources differ on the amount of people killed and injured, but ranges from 8-9 killed and 50-51 wounded.

This latest attack can also be connected with the JI by the fact that they targeted the same hotel and area, using the same method and timing of attack (early morning around 8:00am). Moreover, this attack came only ten days after the re-election (by an overwhelming majority) of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who ordered the anti-terror attacks that nearly ended the JI. Although this can be linked to the JI, it may actually be the work of a splinter group of the JI led by Noordin Mohammed Top. The possibility of a JI splinter cell will be discussed later.

These were not the only terror attacks committed by the JI. However, they were chosen for analysis as they indicate a linear trend in the methods used by the JI. Thus, by looking at the four case studies that have been discussed one can extrapolate on the methods used by JI. Firstly, it is clear that they choose targets that have some connection to the west. In the case of 2000 attacks, the targets were chosen for the dual reasons they were Christian churches and as such an obstruction to the ultimate goal of the JI, and that Christianity is a Western religion. Further, due to the global nature of Christianity, the news of the attack would spread further than if they attacked a Hindu temple. The Bali attacks also focussed on areas favoured by Westerners. This sends a message to Westerners that they are not safe, nor are they welcome. The large amount of Indonesians killed in the attacks seems to have had an impact on the top structure of the JI. Tremendous soul searching took place on the utility of such attacks whether they ultimately undermine JI by alienating popular support.

A steady evolution was apparent in the JI attacks. It is clear that the JI preferred the use of explosives rather than small arms in their attacks, which is not surprising when one considers that the JI had had training in Al-Qaeda camps where explosives are the most commonly used method of attack. There are benefits to using explosives as opposed to other methods. Firstly, most of the material needed for a bomb is commercially available and can easily be disguised and smuggled. Secondly, it is far easier to conceal an explosive device in a public place or building. Lastly, with a relatively small device one can cause a large amount of damage, both in lives and property. There is, however, a significant drawback to the use of explosives. A large amount of training and expertise is required to create a bomb, which makes it easier for authorities to track the people that can make them. In addition, if an area is on high alert there is a good chance that the bomb may be found without it being detonated. This was the case with some of the devices used in the church bombings of 2000. The church bombings also highlight another danger to using explosives; once a bomb is discovered and a warning sounded, an evacuation would make any undiscovered bomb redundant. Despite these problems, the element of surprise and stealth that bombs provide makes them ideal for such attacks.

As stated earlier, the church attacks can be directly associated to the main goals of JI and the Bali bombings cannot. There are two views concerning the Bali attacks. Firstly, it can be argued that since the main targets were areas frequented by Westerners, and since Christianity is associated with the West, by attacking Western targets JI is indirectly attacking Christianity. The second argument is a bit more complex. According to Sydney Jones, the head of the International Crises group in Jakarta and an expert on the JI, JI has split into two sections. Jones refers to the one branch as the bombers and they are responsible for the Bali attacks, while the other group is referred to as the mainstream. The mainstream group follows the main goal of the JI, the creation of an Islamic State, while the bombers are more concerned with attacking the US and its allies.

The large number of Indonesian fatalities during the attacks makes a split in the ranks of JI unsurprising. When JI started as an organisation, it used peaceful means to obtain its goals. This changed in the 90’s with the arrival of Hambali, which leads to speculation on whether the change in policy was a group or leader decision. That JI has split into groups, for and against the use of violence, may indicate that the decision to use force was more a leader decision than an organisational one. A split within JI will also account for the difference between the church and Bali bombings. The church bombings clearly fit the agenda of JI. However, the attacks on Bali do not seem to fit with the JI agenda, and are more in line with Middle Eastern groups and organisations like Al-Qaeda whose goals are to target the West and, more specifically the US, rather than to create an Islamic state in South Eastern Asia. If one keeps in mind that Hambali had ties with Al-Qaeda, the Bali bombings and the split in JI, with each group following their own agenda, starts to make sense. Although JI has links with al-Qaeda and other groups, it has maintained a more regional identity and goal; targeting only the West and tourists does not aid it in obtaining its goals.

Strength of Jemaah Islamiyah

After the 2005 Bali bombings, the Indonesian government began a large-scale anti-terror attack, focusing on but not limited to JI. In this effort, the Indonesian government obtained aid from both the US and Australia, mainly in the form of intelligence. By 2007 it appeared that JI was beaten, with most of its leaders and experts either captured or killed. Although the 2009 bombing seemed to indicate that this was only an illusion, one needs to compare the strength of JI in its pre-2002 and post-2005 state in order to better evaluate whether the 2009 bombings signal a return of JI or are just one last attempt to remain relevant.

Estimates of JI membership vary between 200 to several thousand members at the time of the Bali bombings. However, most sources tend to agree that JI had a membership of around 500 members. Despite being a regional terror group with only regional goals, the leadership of JI had had training in other states and had links with other groups. Hambali, the military leader of JI at the time of the Bali bombings, had joined the mujahedeen in Afghanistan against the Soviet forces. It was in Afghanistan that Hambali met members of Al-Qaeda, and from this time on, JI would have close ties with Al-Qaeda. JI allegedly supplied financial aid, through money laundering in Indonesia, to Al-Qaeda for their global plans. JI was also thought to have given sanctuary to members of Al-Qaeda and at least three JI members had contributed to the 9/11 attacks.

However, both Abu Bakar and Hambali denied these connections at their trials, after their arrests in 2003. Moreover, members of the US Department of State note that some of the JI’s goals are in conflict with those of Al-Qaeda. What is not in dispute is that the two organisations have cooperated with each other and that JI did provide Al-Qaeda with aid. What is debateable is the extent of that aid and whether JI is an extension of Al-Qaeda; in other words, Al-Qaeda in Indonesia. JI is also known to have connections with Kumpulan Mujahideen Malaysia (KMM), with the groups sharing two of their founders, namely Abu Bakar Ba’asyir and Riduan Isamuddin. Since it has been proven that KMM has deeper links with Al-Qaeda, it is considered more than likely that JI would also have such links. Despite the fact that JI has connections with other terror groups, uncertainty remains as to the proximity and extent of these relationships. There is no consensus on whether or not JI only has ties with other groups, or whether they are working closely with other groups.

Despite the denial by the leaders of JI that they had connections with Al-Qaeda, Jones believes that the cooperation between the two groups peaked in 1997-2002, and that these connections led to the Bali bombings. The international nature of the Bali attack, combined with the fact that the Bali bombings were not in line with the overall goals of JI and the belief that JI has fractured into two groups, seems to support a connection with Al-Qaeda. Some JI members had also fought alongside Al-Qaeda against the Soviet Union during the Afghanistan war. Further, rumours abound that Hambali is a member of the leading council of Al-Qaeda. This would go some way towards explaining the split in JI and the Bali bombings’ deviation from the main goals of JI. Hambali planned the Bali bombings, and if he is a member of Al-Qaeda’s council it explains why the attacks have more in common with Al-Qaeda’s other attacks than JI’s goals.

It is certainly clear that JI is not united in its attitude towards Al-Qaeda. Since the main body of JI feel that the goals of Al-Qaeda will not aid them in obtaining their own goals, it is doubtful that a deep connection exists between the two groups. It is believed that JI and Al-Qaeda support each other by means of financial backing, but it is doubtful that the support extends further than financial support. The best way to explain the link between the two groups is to say that they are like friendly neighbours. They will help each other in emergencies, but at any other time they will only talk with each other.

The JI also has ties to other terror groups in South East Asia. They have links with the KMM, which is the branch of Al-Qaeda in Malaysia. In addition, the founder of JI, Abu Bakar, is also the leader of the terror group Majelis Mujahidin Indonesia, which means Indonesian Council of Holy Warriors. Proof also exists of links with the Philippines-based group Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). Furthermore, JI is divided into four different semi-autonomous regional groups (mantiq) that handle certain aspects of the JI. This has led some authors to believe that these are different groups entirely. While the extent of cooperation between JI and other terror groups in South East Asia is not clear, it would be strange if no cooperation existed between JI and other groups not in conflict with JI’s goal of the creation of an Islamic State. Since JI’s goals are so wide, it is easy for many terror groups to be compatible with JI and, as such, cooperation between JI and other groups is more than likely.

The government response to JI is interesting. The Indonesian government only acknowledged the existence of JI after the 2002 Bali attacks. Thus for a period of about a decade, the Indonesian government went through a form of denial concerning JI. This, in turn, gave JI large amounts of freedom of movement not only to operate, but also to recruit new members. It must also be remembered that during this period (1992-2002) Indonesia had also changed governments. When the dictatorship in Indonesia ended in 1998, the country formed a new democratic government. Such changes are always followed by large amounts of chaos and confusion, a situation that is perfect for terrorist groups. This is mostly due to the lack of authority and control that the new governments have in the state. However, by the time of the 2002 Bali attacks, the situation had changed. Firstly, the democratic government had begun to exert more control over the state as things started to settle down. Secondly, the whole world had become far more anti-terrorist than they had been in the 90’s, especially the US which now gave countries aid in dealing with these organisations. Therefore, by 2002 the Indonesian government was in a better position to deal with the terrorist than it had been in 2000.

Response to the 2002 JI attacks came from both the international community as well as from the Indonesian government. Internationally, the main response came from the US, which added JI to the US list of terrorist organisations. The US waited until the 2002 attack to add the group to their list due to political concerns regarding Indonesia. These concerns were mainly the fear of alienating the Indonesian public sentiment and its Muslim political parties. Washington was also afraid that if the group was added to their list, it would undermine the moderate government of President Megawati Sukarnoputri. Since the 9/11 attack, increasing pressure was placed on the Indonesian government to arrest JI members, especially Hambali. However, many in the Indonesian government did not believe that the group existed. Other members of the government where afraid that if they took action against JI due to the 9/11 attacks, it would create public sympathy towards JI. The government was also concerned that if they did take action against JI, it would appear that they had caved in to US pressure and would alienate them from the public. However, after the Bali attack and the subsequent acknowledgment by the government of JI as a terrorist group, the US could add JI to their list without these political fears.

The Indonesian government’s response was quick and effective. Government forces arrested approximately 450 JI members, and of these roughly 250 were imprisoned. Among these were both the military and spiritual leaders of JI namely: Abu Bakar Ba’asyir and Hambali. Abu Bakar was arrested in 2003 and imprisoned in 2005. Although the judge did not believe that there was enough evidence to show that Abu Bakar had helped plan the attack, there was enough to show that he knew about it and did nothing to stop it.

Hambali was arrested in Thailand in August 2003 following his escape to Thailand after the 2002 bombing. He was tried and found guilty, and is currently serving a life sentence in Jordan. The arrest of the two main leaders and 400 members almost completely wiped out Indonesian cell of JI.

However, despite the best attempts of the Indonesian government to destroy JI, their attempts were only partially successful and an estimated dozen hardened JI leaders escaped the government’s attempts to arrest them in 2002. Noordin Muhammad Top was recognised to be a grave threat as it was believed that Top was a charismatic leader who could rebuild JI. He was responsible for the 2009 attack and proved these fears were well-founded. However, in August 2009, Top was believed to have been killed in a raid; DNA tests later proved that the dead man was not Top. However, in a similar raid in September 2009, Top was killed at a house in Solo City on the island of Java, with his body being identified by his fingerprints. With Top’s death, other leaders of his group such as Zulkarnaen with his technical skills and Dulmatin with his good military capabilities may well step into the leadership vacuum created by Top’s death. Whilst these two men have the ability to continue the work of JI as a terrorist organisation, the loss of Top is a blow to the beleaguered JI splinter group he was heading on account of both his charisma and his overall strategic leadership.

Government response to the JI attack was not limited to Indonesia. Indeed, JI’s current setbacks must be seen in a regional and a historical context. In Singapore, 13 suspected members of JI were arrested, including Ibrahim Maidin, the leader of JI in Singapore. With these arrests, the government of Singapore claimed that the JI cell in their country was effectively eliminated. The US State Department also claims that they arrested the primary recruiter of JI, Mohamad Iqbal Abdurraham, in June 2001. Further progress was made in June 2007, when the leader and military chief of JI were arrested in Indonesia. The arrest of Zarkasi, the leader of JI since 2004, had left JI leaderless again. The arrest of Abu Dujana, the military chief of JI, hampered JI in the implementation of their plans. In November 2005, the expert bomb maker of the JI, Azahari bins Husin, was shot and killed in a raid on a JI safe house in Indonesia. These historical and regional setbacks of JI must be taken into account when people assume that Top’s death would signal the death-knell for JI. After each setback, JI was able to regroup and strike terror yet again.

The Indonesian government was not alone in its fight against JI. Both the US and the Australian government aided the Indonesian government in their attacks on JI. Even the UN took action against JI by implementing sanctions that froze the assets of JI and its leaders. Both the Australian Government and the Australian people have an interest in combating the JI since a large number of the victims of the Bali attack were Australian nationals and the Australian government was under pressure to act in finding and arresting the culprits. Australia and Indonesia have a very close cooperation on a governmental level. There is also close cooperation between the foreign ministries of both countries concerning the JI.

US aid to the Indonesian government is mostly in the form of intelligence sharing concerning the JI. This is due to the fact that the US congress banned the US military from training and aiding the Indonesian government. The Indonesian government also cannot risk being too closely affiliated with the US since it will cost them the support of their people.

The Bush administration’s hard-line approach to the terror question did damage the US reputation and position with the Indonesian government and people. The US has gained itself a reputation as being anti-Muslim, which complicates matters when dealing with Muslim nations. Time will tell if President Obama will be able to change this view of the US. The fact that President Obama is personally connected to Indonesia may assist in healing this rift. A fact that aids this rapprochement is that the people of Indonesia were alienated from JI when JI targeted innocent Indonesians as well. In this regard, Bali was a blessing in disguise to the Indonesian-US relationship, making it safe for the Indonesian government to accept US aid without losing the support of their people.

Jemaah Islamiyah Today

It is clear that the results of the 2002 attack were not very positive for JI. Furthermore, despite all the arrests that were made, JI was still able to implement terror attacks in 2004, 2005, 2007 and 2009. Since the attacks continued after the arrest of the two main leaders in 2002 and 2003, it is clear that JI is still in operation. However, how strong is JI today?

It is hard to obtain exact numbers as to the strength of JI after 2005. This is because, to a large extent, JI went underground from 2005 with very little activity in the form of terror attacks. However, the authorities in Singapore estimate that JI has around 5,000 members today. Of this 5,000, it is estimated that only two hundred are operational members. With the arrest of most of their top level leaders, the terror groups in South East Asia had no theoreticians to guide them in their activities. JI filled this gap by looking at the works of the three main theoreticians of Al-Qaeda.

These three thinkers are Abu Musab as-Suri (his work entitled ‘Call to worldwide Islamic Resistance’), Abu Bakr Naji (his work ‘The Management of Savagery’) and Abdul Qadir (his work ‘Rationalising Jihad in Egypt and the World’).

The three works aided JI in revitalising their civilian branches known as Majelis Mujahidin Indonesia. These authors argued that firstly, the terror groups should reduce their animosity to democratic governments since this is counter productive. This is not to say that they should accept or follow the democratic form of government; rather that they should start working with the Muslim leaders and political parties to improve their own effectiveness. Secondly, they argued that the terror groups should justify their jihads with Islamic law and start to reach the people directly, not through the state or privately owned news agencies. JI also accepted the argument that most of the jihads called by the terror groups are illegal according to Islamic law and that they should only be used as a defence. The resistance movements’ jihads will only be legal by Islamic law if their resistance leads to the improvement of the lives of the Muslims living in these areas. JI also follows the three phases of establishing a cell. These phases are the iman (faith of the members), hijrah (building a base) and then lastly jihad qital (fighting ones enemies). The last of the three phases is the part that JI follows most closely.xci It can be seen that JI has once again undergone an adjustment to the methods that it uses. Yet, how did JI recreate and reorganise the organisation?

Between 2003 and 2005 JI focused mostly on the recruitment and indoctrination of new members until they started to create bases of operation located on central Sulawesi and the Moluccas. JI also suffered from internal fractures, with some members calling for a more sectarian-centred approach while others argue for greater attacks on the Indonesian government and Western targets. Despite this factionalism, JI actively pursues both these strategies. By focusing on a more sectarian approach they can better justify their defensive jihad and, as a result, they obtain better public support. During a raid, the Indonesian police found documents that showed that sectarian violence was becoming more and more central to JI tactics and, consequently, the police are taking this threat seriously. In addition, the standard practice of religious indoctrination is still a fundamental part of the JI.

JI civilian branches also continue their work as before the 2003 crackdown. This follows the Hezbollah approach, were the civilian branches of the organisation act as the cover for more militant activities. The organisation also works mainly on humanitarian style projects and, as such, gives the organisation a form of legitimacy. Another main goal of the Majelis Mujahidin Indonesia, is to pursue the goals of JI in a more legal and democratic way. This can be seen in the fact that the Majelis Mujahidin Indonesia lobbies for Islamic law to be part of every bill and law created. It is interesting to note that the Majelis Mujahidin Indonesia has changed its opinion concerning violent acts in Indonesia itself. At a sermon in 2006, Abu Bakar stated that if the people wanted to do jihad, they should do it in the Philippines or the other neighbouring countries, not in Indonesia. He did not condemn any of the attacks that were committed, stating only that they were carried out at the wrong time. It is unclear what brought about this change in attitude and what this change might mean. It is, nonetheless, still a very interesting change in attitude concerning one of the founders of the JI.


The end of the first decade of the 21st century was not the peaceful time that the Indonesian government and people hoped it would be. The fragile peace that had existed since 2005 was rudely shattered by the recent attack. Yet, what more can the Indonesian government do?

The Indonesian government finds itself in a difficult position regarding JI. The geography of Indonesia, which makes it ideal for small groups to move around unseen, also makes it hard to deal with JI directly. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that JI is a rather tight-knit group. The importance that JI places on kinship connections between its members makes it unlikely that members of JI will defect. Moreover, since an important means of recruitment into JI is through friendship with an existing member, infiltration of JI is very difficult. While this kinship connection grants JI a large amount of collective cohesion and strength, it also has a very important drawback. Since every member of JI has a connection to the other members in one way or another, it makes the superstructure of the organisation very visible. The very nature of a terror organisation is to be secretive. However, it is hard to maintain secrecy due to the fact that they need to take credit for their attacks in order to obtain their long-term goals.

How then, can an organisation obtain the attention of the world without the world knowing everything about the organisation? This can be done if each member of the group knows very little of the other members. Although some collective strength is lost, more security is gained as a compromised member cannot reveal information about other members. This is not the case with the JI. If the information of one member is obtained, the identities of the other members can be deduced. By monitoring the known members, it is possible to identify those members of the family who are also JI members. Also, the more members that are uncovered, the easier it is to track down the rest of the organisation’s members. Thus JI structure is like an earth seawall. It remains strong until the first small hole appears, then the whole structure quickly crumbles.

History also shows that the large-scale arrests of JI members can seriously weaken the JI. This highlights an important limitation of JI; it cannot replace its members at a rapid rate and, as such, is easily damaged by the loss of key members. This damage is clearly seen in the decline of the extent and sophistication of the attacks committed by JI, which could have been caused by a weakened and more ineffectual leadership. However, some believe that the decrease in the size and elaboration of the attacks is indicative of a lack of funds rather than weaker leadership. An important implication of this scenario is that if JI is cut off from funding for their attacks, they can effectively be eliminated as a threat. In addition, this questions the strength of the relationships between JI and groups like Al-Qaeda.

The factional rift that has developed within JI also makes it harder for government authorities to combat them. If the opinion of experts like Sydney Jones is correct, and the JI has split into a number of different splinter groups, then the situation is even more complex. It is easier to counter one group than ten with the same goal. The fact that the group has split means that the government will have to infiltrate and combat them separately due to the independent nature of each cell. The 2009 attack and the JI denial of the attack raise important questions as to Al Qaeda’s influence within JI and related groups. Put differently if the JI leadership did not know about the attack, then has Al Qaeda worked with a younger leadership within JI to conduct the operation thereby subverting the local organization?

The recent attacks on Bali do create some problems for the Indonesian government. However, the long period of peace between the 2005 and 2009 attacks as compared to the 2000 to 2005 attacks must be kept in mind. This illustrates the government’s effectiveness in combating terror groups, and the killing of Top in a raid also demonstrates that the government does still have the means to combat the terror groups. The factionalism within JI coupled with the fact that it is losing popular support by its indiscriminate bombings also work to bolster the government’s anti-terrorism strategy. The fact that Jakarta is being given support internationally and regionally also strengthens the government’s hand.

The views reflected in this paper are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of IIIS. The International Institute of Islamic Studies (IIIS) aims to provide insight and solutions to issues associated with the Islamic world.

See International Institute of Islamic Monograph comments at facebook: