By Greg Barton
May 21, 2018
Even after the recent arrests and deaths of dozens of its members, Daesh-linked network of militant groups in Indonesia organised under the umbrella Jemaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD) clearly remains a potent force.
In the past week, five bombings have rocked the island of Java - the deadliest series of terrorist attacks in the country since the Bali bombings in 2002.
Formed in 2015, JAD achieved notoriety in 2016 with a military-style attack in the centre of Jakarta that resulted in the deaths of four people and four attackers. Dozens of other potential attacks were foiled in the two years that followed, but several smaller ones were carried out, directed largely against the elite Detachment 88 counter-terrorism police unit - the arch-nemesis of JAD.
Formed in the wake of the 2002 Bali bombings, with assistance from the Australian Federal Police, Detachment 88 has emerged as one of the world's most effective counter-terrorism units, having arrested more than 1,000 militants.
Last year, 172 suspected terrorists were apprehended and 16 shot dead, following 163 arrests in 2016 and 73 in 2015. Most of the militants recently arrested have been linked with JAD and the related Daesh support network of Mujahidin Indonesian Timur (MIT).
Since it declared its caliphate in Syria and Iraq in 2014, Daesh has perversely given special attention to planning and inspiring terrorist attacks during Ramadan, which began last week. This is the first Ramadan since the group lost control of large swathes of its territory centred around Raqqa in Syria and Mosul in Iraq. As Daesh is clearly desperate to maintain its brand and prove its continuing potency around the globe, there are now concerns the recent attacks in Indonesia are a sign the group has extended its reach eastward to the world's largest Muslim-majority nation.
Ever since Daesh shot to prominence with the fall of Mosul in 2014, there have been fears about its potential to reenergise the decades-old Jihadi network in Indonesia. Since 2013, it's estimated between 600 and 1,000 Indonesians have travelled to Syria and Iraq to join the conflict, most drawn to Daesh and its fabled caliphate.
Indonesian police estimate 400-500 of these fighters subsequently returned home, either from Syria and Iraq, or from Turkey on their way to join the conflict. Many have been met at the airport by authorities and taken into rehabilitation programmes. But others returned unannounced. With a lack of appropriate laws, these returning fighters cannot be prosecuted for travelling to join Daesh.
After the recent JAD attacks in Indonesia, local police have spoken of sleeper cells of returnees from the Middle East and their associates, who lay low and give the appearance of having no inclination to violence, even while they prepare for an attack at an opportune time.
The world rejoiced when Raqqa, the de facto capital of Daesh caliphate, was liberated in October 2017. It was believed Daesh itself had been eliminated, too. As it turns out, the fall of Raqqa did not see the final destruction of Daesh army. Rather, under a secret deal brokered by the Kurdish-led, and American-backed, Syrian Democratic Forces who led the campaign to liberate Raqqa, thousands of Daesh fighters and their families were allowed to leave the city.
Many made their way to Turkey, where it seems some remain. But thousands more drove into the desert of eastern Syria. Many Daesh fighters, especially local Arabs, have gone to ground, blending into villages and desert communities.
The election of a Shia-dominated government in Baghdad and the failure to rebuild Mosul and other destroyed cities mean that in Iraq, as in Syria, all the social and communal grievances that supported the emergence of Al Qaeda and the Daesh remain in place.
Even as Daesh was losing territory in Iraq in recent years, its leaders spoke with the conviction of an apocalyptic cult, confidently asserting that even if they lost the caliphate, the insurgency would rebuild.
Today, the group has active affiliates and supporters across the Muslim world, including in the southern Philippines, and a "virtual insurgency" throughout the many Western countries that contributed around one-quarter of the group's total of 40,000 foreign fighters in Iraq and Syria.
The insurgency is far from over, and in Indonesia it may well be that the worst is yet to come.
Greg Barton is Chair of Global Islamic Politics, Alfred Deakin Institute for ?Citizenship and Globalisation