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Profile: Abdurrahman Wahid
Abdurrahman Wahid was a participant or observer in the following events:
Members of the Laskar Jihad militia at a public rally. [Source: Associated Press]Beginning in January 1999, violence starts to rage in the Maluku islands (also known as the Spice Islands) in Indonesia. Christian and Muslim villages are intermingled all over the Malukus, and the different religions have largely coexisted peacefully in about equal numbers for hundreds of years. It is not clear who is behind the new violence, but long-time Indonesian dictator Suharto was deposed the year before, overturning the political order. In January 2000, a paramilitary organization called Laskar Jihad is founded on the Indonesian island of Java. [Conboy, 2003, pp. 236] The group grew out of a militia created a couple of years earlier by an Indonesian military general. [Asia Times, 11/7/2002]
Militants Not Stopped from Fighting - Its leader, Jafar Umar Thalib, had fought in Afghanistan in the late 1980s and met Osama bin Laden there. In early April 2000, Thalib meets with Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid and warns that his group will get active in the Malukus if Wahid does not do more to help Muslims there. Wahid angrily dismisses him as a dangerous fanatic. In May 2000, 3,000 members recruited in Java depart for the Malukus after weeks of training. Even though they had announced in advance that they were going to the Malukus to fight Christians, the government makes no attempt to stop them. In fact, Wahid had ordered a naval blockade of the Malukus to prevent their arrival but the navy makes no effort to stop them, and they are even sent on government-owned ships. Their arrival in the Malukus greatly increases the violence there. After arriving in the Malukus, they receive considerable support and training from al-Qaeda linked figures (see Late 2000-Mid-2001). [Christian Science Monitor, 11/20/2000; Conboy, 2003, pp. 236; Contemporary Southeast Asia, 4/1/2007]
Indonesian Military Complicity - Lieutenant General Agus Wirahadikusuma, a reformist and ally of Wahid, accuses unnamed hardline officers of creating the group to destabilize Indonesia. The Guardian will later comment, “While his claims were denied, they have since been proven correct.… [The military’s] connivance with radical Islamists appears to be encouraging increased public resentment about the civilian politicians’ inability to maintain law and order and stimulate economic recovery.” Sidney Jones of the International Crisis Group, an international think tank, says, “If you scratch below the surface of any radical Islamic group in Indonesia you will find the hand of the military at work. And with many of them you don’t really have to go beneath the surface.” [Guardian, 10/15/2002] The International Crisis Group, an international think tank, reports in late 2001 that the “conclusion is unavoidable that [Laskar Jihad] received the backing of elements in the military and police. It was obviously military officers who provided them with military training and neither the military nor the police made any serious effort to carry out the president’s order preventing them from going to Maluku. And, once in Maluku, they often obtained standard military arms and on several occasions were openly backed by military personnel and indeed units.” [International Crisis Group, 10/10/2001] The US ambassador to Indonesia, Larry Gelbard, will later complain that the “only time an Army general acted firmly against an indigenous terrorist group, Laskar Jihad, it resulted in his removal from his command, a powerful lesson to others.” [Human Rights Watch, 12/2002]
Indonesian President Unable to Stop the Group - Wahid complains that elements of the armed forces are trying to foment instability to create an authoritarian backlash, but he seems unable to stop the violence. [Christian Science Monitor, 11/20/2000] About 10,000 people are killed and 500,000 are driven from their homes. The violence largely coincides with the time Wahid is president of Indonesia, from 1999 to 2001. Wahid is attempting to rein in the military and reduce its role in politics. There is a surge of violence there just before Wahid is impeached, on July 23, 2001. His successor, Megawati Sukarnoputri, is much less antagonistic towards the military, and the situation in the Malukus calms down considerably. The last major outbreak of violence there takes place in February 2002. UPI will later comment, “While the army as such is usually not present in overwhelming numbers in Ambon, it is quite easy for well-connected politicians and generals in Jakarta to set off violence there if they really want to.” [United Press International, 4/26/2004]
Group Continues to Fight Elsewhere - Laskar Jihad will officially disband one day before the 2002 Bali bombings, but in fact apparently continues to operate in remote regions in Indonesia (see October 11-14, 2002).
Abdurrahman Wahid. [Source: Indonesian Embassy in the Netherlands]In an interview with the Australian public television station SBS, Abdurrahman Wahid, president of Indonesia from 1999 to 2001, suggests that the country’s military or police may have been behind the 2002 Bali bombings (see October 12, 2002). The Australian reports: “Wahid told SBS’s Dateline program that he had grave concerns about links between Indonesian authorities and terrorist groups and believed that authorities may have organized the larger of the two 2002 Bali bombings which hit the Sari Club, killing the bulk of the 202 people who died.… Asked who he thought planted the Sari Club bomb, Mr Wahid said: ‘Maybe the police… or the armed forces. The orders to do this or that came from within our armed forces, not from the fundamentalist people.’” Wahid believes the smaller bomb was indeed planted by Islamist militants. [SBS Dateline, 10/12/2005; Australian, 10/13/2005] Counterterrorism expert John Mempi also comments, “Why this endless violence [in Indonesia]? Why are there acts of terrorism year in, year out? Regimes change, governments change, but violence continues. Why? Because there is a sort of shadow state in this country. A state within a state ruling this country.” [SBS Dateline, 10/12/2005] In 2008, Imam Samudra, imprisoned and sentenced to death for being one of the Bali bombings masterminds, will make comments similar to Wahid’s. While he admits being involved in the bombings, he claims that they never meant to kill so many people. He says the second explosion was much bigger than they had expected and suggests that “the CIA or KGB or Mossad” had somehow tampered with the bomb. [Sunday Times (London), 3/2/2008]
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