The good news is that their failure means that the government, through good intelligence and increased cooperation with other countries, has managed to disrupt international terror networks.
Many of the terrorists that caused bloodbaths in Indonesia in the early 2000s, such as the one in Bali, had good connections with the international jihadist network, notably Al Qaeda, that was cultivated in the 1980s, when many of their colleagues or superiors spent years fighting the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Thanks to the strong connections, they were adequately trained in bomb-making and terror attacks by instructors in Mindanao, in the Southern Philippines, Pakistan or Afghanistan. That made them uniquely skilled in blowing up their targets and causing many casualties.
The impact of successful training can be devastating. The Americans experienced it firsthand in Afghanistan and Iraq, where improvised explosive devices were used to cause many casualties. The use of IEDs is apparently so successful in Syria that Syrian soldiers reportedly don’t dare to venture too far from their bases, where tanks and other vehicles are vulnerable to attack. The Syrian rebels seem to have learned the art of bomb-making from Islamists that honed their skills in Iraq.
The fact that the past few years have seen many aspiring terrorists fail in causing mass casualties, or managed to blow themselves up while making bombs, suggests that the international connections have started to dry up. Terrorist networks are not easy to build. There are many difficulties, notably the problem of trust. Who could guarantee that a new recruit is not a mole planted by the government in order to undermine the network? Or, having spent some years in prison, there are always possibilities that a former prisoner would either be closely watched by the police or has become an informant.
With each successful crackdown on a terrorist network, it is becoming harder and harder for the network itself to maintain itself. This strain showed up in the recent explosions, or premeditated attacks like the ones in Solo. The police, with little difficulty, are managing to crack down on the entire network.
Many of these people are simply lacking the proper training to handle and manufacture explosive devices, or more importantly, to create a strong organization that could launch deadlier attacks.
While they can learn the art of bomb-making from the Internet, it is very different from the hands-on training that experienced instructors provided. Building a strong and deadly terrorist network requires a lot of experience, especially in the art of strategy, notably on the question of how and when to attack, to maximize the impact.
The bad news about the latest rash of failed attempts, however, is that they also suggested that many of the wannabe jihadists are homegrown. It is easy to blame globalization, growing inequality, or the declining respect and adherence to Pancasila as the state ideology that cements the nation together, as the main culprits of the radicalization of our youth. That would be incorrect. It is the fault of irresponsible religious and political elites.
Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali labeled the Shia as a deviant sect. By doing this, Suryadharma provided justification for any attacks on the Shia community, while absolving the attackers from blame, since they are attacking the guilty party anyway.
Similarly, sermons denouncing Buddhists for their attack on the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar — even though the majority of Buddhists in the world had nothing to do with it — provided a misguided justification for attacks on Buddhists everywhere.
Not surprisingly, the wannabe terrorists who managed to blow themselves up last Saturday in Depok, West Java, were planning to target a Buddhist center in Jakarta to avenge the Rohingya Muslims.
What is the right way to handle the rising radicalism in Indonesia? Aside from a strong deradicalization program, the government keeping the pressure up, and surveillance on any suspected terrorist networks, the best answer would be to tell the religious and political elites to stop denouncing others for short-term political gain. By providing justification for further radicalization of society, these people — our leaders — are sacrificing the unity of Indonesia on the altar of selfish personal interests.
Yohanes Sulaiman is a lecturer at the Indonesian Defense University (Unhan).Jakarta Globe