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Profile: Laskar Jihad
Laskar Jihad 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).
A map of Indonesia, with the Maluku islands highlighted. [Source: BBC]Omar al-Faruq, a Kuwaiti, is considered one of al-Qaeda’s top operatives in Southeast Asia due to links he developed while living in the Philippines in the early 1990s (see 1994). His handler is a Saudi named Syeh Hussein, a.k.a. Rashid. Hussein is said to have access to Osama bin Laden. He also has access to money, and is posing as a representative of the Al Haramain Islamic Foundation, a Saudi government charity. Sheikh Bandar, alias Abu Abdallah, is the head of the Al Haramain branch in Saudi Arabia (but not the head of Al Haramain’s headquarters, also in Saudi Arabia). He has an Indonesian wife and frequently travels to Indonesia, and gives large amounts of cash to al-Faruq or Hussein during his trips to bankroll their militant activities. By the second half of 2000, there is a religious war raging in the Maluku islands (also known as the Spice Islands), as thousands of Muslim militants from the island of Java had traveled there and have joined local Muslims in fighting Christians (see January 1999-July 2001). Most militants belong to the paramilitary group Laskar Jihad. Additionally, the al-Qaeda affiliate Jemaah Islamiyah has already set up its own safe house and weapons storeroom in Ambon, the capital city of the Maluku province, and coordinates the arrival of its own smaller group of volunteers from Java, who are known as Laskar Mujahidin. Hussein and al-Faruq concentrate their efforts on assisting these groups. They set up the “Special Program,” which is free paramilitary and religious training for local Muslim fighters in the Malukus. They build a training camp, including a wooden schoolhouse, near Ambon. From late 2000 until mid-2001, a rotating group of about 20 foreigners, mostly Arabs, help train locals to fight Christians. Hussein and al-Faruq also help provision militants coming to the Malukus from Java, Sulawesi, and Malaysia. They open safe houses in Ambon and south Sulawesi, fund training camps for Jemaah Islamiyah on the nearby islands of Seram and Buru, buy weapons, and buy a gunrunning boat. This effort is sucessful for a time, but it is increasingly plagued by infighting, especially conflicts between recruits from Java and Sulawesi. In mid-2001, the Sulawesi recruits withdraw from the Malukus. Al-Faruq and Hussein reduce their efforts in the Malukus after that, and focus more of their efforts fomenting religious violence on the island of Sulawesi (see December 2001). [Conboy, 2003, pp. 236-240]
Hamzah Haz. [Source: Secretary of Vice President of Republic of Indonesia]Hamzah Haz supports many Islamist militants during his time as vice president of Indonesia from 2001 to 2004. Hamzah serves under President Megawati Sukarnoputri, but he heads a different political party than she does, and his party, the
United Development Party (PPP) has a more Muslim orientation. Prior to the October 2002 Bali bombings, Hamzah describes himself as “very close” to Abu Bakar Bashir, the alleged spiritual head of the al-Qaeda affiliate group Jemaah Islamiyah. Just one week before the Bali bombings, he says, “If you want to arrest Abu Bakar Bashir, you will have to deal with me first.” In May 2002, he kisses both of Bashir’s cheeks in public. And in August 2002, he publicly invites Bashir to dinner. Hamzah also calls himself “very close” to Jafar Umar Thalib, the head of Laskar Jihad, an Indonesian paramilitary group responsible for killing thousands of Christians in the province of Maluku (see January 1999-July 2001). [Age (Melbourne), 10/14/2002; Time, 10/21/2002] After the Bali bombings, Hamzah tones down his support for militants such as Bashir and Thalib. However, he continues to ridicule suggestions Indonesia has a serious terrorist problem. In September 2003, he says, “Who is the real terrorist? It is the United States for they have attacked Iraq. In fact they are the king of terrorists.” [Sydney Morning Herald, 9/5/2003]
Laskar Jihad, Indonesia’s largest violent Islamist militant group, supposedly disbands itself just hours before the Bali bombings (see October 12, 2002). However, the announcement is not made public until several days after the bombings, so it is unclear if the disbanding took place before or after. The group was formed in 2000 and had as many as 15,000 members. It sent thousands of militants to the Maluku islands to fight Christians, but fighting there has largely died down by this time (see January 1999-July 2001). Several days after the Bali bombings, the group’s legal adviser says the disbanding of the group “has nothing to do with the [Bali] bombs,” adding: “There was no pressure on us from military. The clerics in Indonesia and in the Middle East have disagreed with Jafar Umar Thalib’s teachings and have asked him to disband the group.” Thalib is the leader of the group. [Guardian, 10/15/2002] Several days after the Bali bombings, a Muslim fighter in the Malukus who used to fight with Laskar Jihad, tells CNN: “the group was ordered to disband by rogue military generals to hide the generals’ involvement with the group.… These generals backed Laskar Jihad and they acted on their own, outside of the institution. They are afraid of being found out now that there are so many foreign investigators in Bali.” Curiously, General Djaja Suparman, the general who founded a militia that later morphed into Laskar Jihad, was in Bali with some other high-ranking military leaders in the days just before the Bali bombings. The military confirms he and others were there, but says they were only there to have a vacation. [Asia Times, 11/7/2002] While Laskar Jihad activity is greatly reduced in the Malukus after this time, the group remains active in remote regions of Indonesia. For instance, in March 2005, the Australian television program SBS Dateline will report that Laskar Jihad is active fighting separatists in West Papua, the Indonesian half of the island of New Guinea. [SBS Dateline, 3/16/2005]
Six of Indonesia’s main newspapers, including the Jakarta Post, Jawa Pos, and Bali Pos, suggest that several high-ranking Indonesian government figures could be suspects in the Bali bombings that took place earlier in the month (see October 12, 2002). These newspapers note that Gen. Djaja Suparman and former Jakarta police chief Nugroho Jayusman had flown to Bali just before the bombings. Army chief of staff Gen. Ryamizard Ryacudu was also reportedly in Bali at the time of the bombings. [Jakarta Post, 1/3/2003; Pacific Media Watch, 3/31/2003] Gen. Endriartono Sutarto, head of the Indonesian military, admits to the movements, but claims that Suparman was on vacation, while Riyacudu was in Bali for “health reasons.” An Indonesian human-rights activist says, “General Suparman is one of the generals who was behind the extremist jihad groups. He set up militias composed of gangsters and religious fanatics to counter student demonstrations in 1998. One of these militias, Pram Swarkasa, became the embryo of Laskar Jihad.” Laskar Jihad collaborated with the Indonesian military to kill thousands of Christians in the Indonesian province of Maluku in previous years (see January 1999-July 2001); al-Qaeda and its Southeast Asian affiliate Jemaah Islamiyah provided assistance (see Late 2000-Mid-2001). [Asia Times, 11/7/2002] Wimar Witoelar, spokesman for the previous Indonesian president, Abdurrahman Wahid, also says around this time, “The plot is probably hatched by hardline military rogues. This is certainly an excuse for a military takeover unless it is pre-empted.” Suparman threatens to sue for libel, as does Sutarto, who is accused by the Washington Post around the same time for tacitly approving the killing of a group of US citizens in Indonesia less than two months before the Bali bombings (see Mid-September 2002). But the lawsuits apparently never occur, and an Indonesian press council apparently never rules if the newspapers were irresponsible for making the allegations. None of the government figures are ever charged or officially named as suspects in the bombings. [Jakarta Post, 11/9/2002; Pacific Media Watch, 3/31/2003; Reporters without Borders, 6/3/2004]
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