Social Media and Extremism

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There is a shift in the use of media to propagate extremism in Indonesia. Prior to 2013, extremism was mostly spread through religious studies conducted at mosques and homes; and these studies were organised by radical groups. The members were between 20-60 years old; and the majority of them came from extremist families. They seldom used social media because they did not think it was secure.

Today, extremism is mostly spread through social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Telegram, targeting Muslims who come from moderate Muslim families. Facebook, Telegram and WhatsApp groups somehow are replacing religious studies previously held at mosques and homes. Believing that they share same burden to enforce Islamic law and to wage jihad for Allah, those recruited through these groups then set up their own offline groups after their each other’s online encounter and plan attacks on government officers.

The case of an Indonesian pro-ISIS group, the Lion of Allah, is an example of this shift. Its members are young men from moderate Muslim families, and they did not have background in extremism prior to their use of Facebook and Telegram. They learned extremism from Facebook and Telegram groups. They first met online there and then decided to meet offline to conduct terrorist attacks.

Here are details about their activity based on their statements given to police.

Some of the pioneers of this group such as Fajar Maulana Siddiq, Heyruman, and Fatony are around 18-33 years old and come from moderate Muslim communities in Bandung (West Java), Jakarta and Kebumen (Central Java). They first met online and made an acquaintance through a Facebook group named Debat Salafi dan Jamaah Tabligh[1], which was later changed its name into Kargozari.  This group provided a question and answer section to accommodate the discussion between non and pro-ISIS supporters. From this Facebook group, they started to communicate each other intensively via Facebook chats. They discussed ISIS ideology and reasons for supporting ISIS.

They also met online through a pro-ISIS Telegram channel called Info Dunia Akhirat (information on the hereafter) moderated by Abah Kawah from Yogyakarta. Abah Kawah later invited some of them to join other Telegram groups named Istiqamah Jihad (waging jihad faithfully) and Jihad Nyata (real jihad), where they were later introduced to other members, including Rusdi and Muhammad Nizar. Abah Kawah shared extremist teachings with the Istiqamah Jihad Telegram group such as instruction on how to to conduct fai (robberies) and attack prisons and free pro-ISIS prisoners including Abu Bakr-Bashir (former Jemaah Islamiyah leader and current pro-ISIS cleric, who were imprisoned in Gunung Sindur prison, Bogor, West Java). Within the Jihad Nyata Telegram group, the members discussed bomb and weapon making techniques.

As they disagreed with Abah Kawah’s instruction to conduct robberies, they left both groups. Attempting to win them back, Abah Kawah ordered a group senior member, Marwan Kobra, to contact Rusdi and tell Rusdi to create a new Telegram group, called the Lion of Allah. Rusdi did that and invited Fajar, Heyruman, Fatony and Nizar to join it. He also invited the members of both groups to join it. They accepted his invitation and pledged their allegiance to ISIS leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi to become the group members. They elected Rusdi as their leader.

The Lion of Allah group members come from various parts of Indonesia.  For instance, Rusdi comes from Riau, Fajar from Bandung (West Java), Fatony from Kebumen (Central Java), Heyruman from Jakarta, Hanif from Madiun (East Java), Mahfudin alias Adlan from Pemalang (Central Java), Abu Ardiansyah from Kalimantan, Abdul Jaelani from Madura (East Java), and Abu at Taubah from Papua.  The group members discussed and shared news about ISIS in Syria, religious materials related to Islamic jurisprudence, fallacy of democracy and ten causes of apostasy. Towards the end of 2017, they also discussed ISIS instruction on how to attack the enemy of ISIS in each ISIS supporters’ countries including Indonesia. This instruction was stated by Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, leader of ISIS shura council. Rusdi encouraged them to attack Indonesian government officers.

[2]Fatony proposed an attack on police officers, and other members approved it. To realize this idea, they decided to meet off line in Jakarta and then set up a pro-ISIS secure base in Kebumen, where they would enforce Islamic law and wage their armed jihad. Once they succeeded in Kebumen, they wanted to enforce Islamic sharia in other areas of Indonesia. Kebumen was selected because Fatony comes from the area.

Following are the roles of each member in the plan.

Fatony was the initiator of the attack plan. He invited other members to visit his hometown, Kebumen, and attack police officers there. Eight members accepted his invitation and affirmed their participation in the attack plan. They were Rusdi, Fatony, Muhammad Nizar, Fajar Maulana Sidiq, Abu Jaelani, Hanif, Heruman, and Adlan. They planned to attack police precincts, voting booths, local parliament building, district courts, and office of General Election Commission and other government buildings there.

Other members knew of this plan but did not confirm their participation. This idea was firstly challenged by other members named Mahfudin. He argued that attacking police officers in Pemalang and Tegal (both in Central Java) would be a better option as Kebumen was under police surveillance. Because he was inactive in the group following the riot that broke out in Mako Brimob Detention Centre in Depok West Java on May 8-10, 2018 the rest of the group decided to continue with their Kebumen plan.

Fatony also conducted a survey on their attack targets and bought an airsoft gun to be used for the attack for IDR 1,800,000.  In addition, he later tried to assemble homemade guns and projectiles. He learned to do so from an online manual available in Abah Kawah’s Jihad Nyata Telegram group. An individual from Malaysia who was a recommended by Abah Kawah funded Fatony’s project. This Malaysian man later transferred IDR 1,000,000 to Fatony’s work mate, Agus Riyadi. Muhammad Nizar and Fajar helped Fatony make projectiles.
Rusdi motivated his members to kill government officers and bought them machetes to do that. Heruman recruited two other ISIS supporters outside their group into their attack plan.  However, before he could meet these two members, Indonesian counter-terrorism police unit, Detachment 88 arrested him.

Hanif agreed to fund their attack plan, but he failed to do that because he had not yet received an inheritance from his parents.

They paid planning expenditures from their own funds. To begin with, Muhammad Nizar sold his belongings to pay for his move from Makassar to Jakarta to join the rest of the group. Rusdi paid his own travel expenses from Riau to Jakarta to do the same. Fatony spent his own money to buy an airsoft gun and three hundred used Ak-47 ammunition cartridges from an online shop Tokopedia.

Their attack plan never saw the light of the day because Detachment 88 arrested them before they could launch the attack. They arrested Fajar, Nizar and Rusdi on June 19, 2018 in a villa belonged to Fajar Maulana’s brother in law in Bukit Batu, Cimahi, Bandung West Java. On the same day, they arrested Fatony in his parents’s house in Kebumen. They arrested Heruman on June 20, 2018 at Kebumen bus station.

The Lion of Allah case highlights two main points. The first one is the use of social media as an arena to radicalise people and turns them into terrorists. Extremists use it to preach extremism and plan terrorist attacks. This is worrying because in 2017 143 million out of 262 million of Indonesian population are active internet[3], making Indonesia as the world’s sixth biggest internet user.[4] The second one is extremists’ desire to wage armed jihad and build a  secure base to enforce Islamic law. Extremists continue to seek opportunities to kill their enemies and enforce Islamic law forcefully.

Regarding these points, the Indonesian government needs to implement the newly issued anti-terrorism law strictly by arresting those pledging allegiance to ISIS leader. The ministry of communication and information, Menkominfo, should monitor and ban extremists’ Facebook, Telegram and WhatsApp accounts and groups. This will restrict the spread of extremism in social media. Lastly, the government should come out with the right formula to de-radicalize extremists, for instance by countering ISIS propaganda online.

 

Desca Angelianawati is a research assistant at the Centre for Radicalism and Deradicalization Studies, an Indonesian based non-governmental organization.

 

[1]  The group provides questions and answers related to the salafis and tablighi jamaat, two non-violent fundamentalist groups active in Indonesia. However, pro-ISIS extremists use it to preach their ISIS ideology and recruit new members.

[2] Photo source: “Satuan Densus 88 AT Melakukan Penangkapan Diduga Teroris Di Wilayah Kebumen”, Kabar Investigasi, June 20, 2018, [https://www.kabar-investigasi.com/2018/06/satuan-densus-88-at-melakukan.html, accessed on August 21, 2018].

[3] The Indonesian Coordinating Ministry of Telecommunication and Information, “Jumlah Pengguna Internet 2017 Meningkat, Kominfo Terus Lakukan Percepatan Pembangunan Broadband”, [https://kominfo.go.id/index.php/content/detail/12640/siaran-pers-no-53hmkominfo022018-tentang-jumlah-pengguna-internet-2017-meningkat-kominfo-terus-lakukan-percepatan-pembangunan-broadband/0/siaran_pers, accessed on August 24, 2018].

[4] The Indonesian Coordinating Ministry of Telecommunication and Information, “Pengguna Iternet Indonesia Nomor Enam Dunia”, [https://kominfo.go.id/content/detail/4286/pengguna-internet-indonesia-nomor-enam-dunia/0/sorotan_media, accessed on August 24, 2018].

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