Academic journal article Southeast Asian Studies

Looking at Links and Nodes: How Jihadists in Indonesia Survived

Academic journal article Southeast Asian Studies

Looking at Links and Nodes: How Jihadists in Indonesia Survived

Article excerpt

(ProQuest: ... denotes non-US-ASCII text omitted.)


It has been more than a decade since the Bali bombings of 2002, which increased international awareness of militant Islamists, more commonly called jihadists by Western media and security experts, in Indonesia.1) Jihadists in Indonesia, represented by an organization called Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), carried out a series of attacks on Western targets such as US-owned hotels and tourist sites over the next few years. Indonesia became the "second front" in the War on Terrorism. Indonesian security authorities arrested or shot down most of the key jihadists and a few hundred other perpetrators and accomplices. JI and related groups became more and more dispersed, and the structures of their organizations dissolved. However, jihadists have survived in different forms with smaller groups and continued their "war on the enemy of Islam." Furthermore, the recent war in Syria and proclamation of the so-called Islamic State (IS) seem to have revitalized their international connections and activities. This paper examines why and how jihadists in Indonesia tenaciously sustained their violent activities.

To examine this, I shed light on JI and related groups in Indonesia by preliminarily applying network theories, mostly those proposed and summarized by Barabasi. There are detailed reports published by Sidney Jones on current militant Islamists,2) and the historical background and chronological paths have been revealed by ex-activists and Indonesian experts (Abas 2005; Huda Ismail 2007; 2010; Solahudin 2011; 2013; Wildan 2013). There are hundreds of published and unpublished books, booklets, papers, and videos in which militant activists translate and share their ideology for their fellow activists. Using these materials as well as my interviews and discussions with activists, insiders, and experts, this paper tries to extract certain significant aspects of Indonesian jihadists by focusing on the links and nodes in such networks.3) The significance of this paper is that it reorganizes existing reports and materials with theoretical and comparative views by applying network theories. Through focusing on several key actors or "nodes," this paper especially emphasizes the changing characteristics of the jihadist network in Indonesia, which could not be fully captured by existing studies. JI is an organization with a loosely organized but hierarchical structure that is divided into regional cells. Its members are recruited through families, schools, friends, or other connections.

As organizations weaken because of arrests and police assaults, jihadists modify themselves and rely more and more on new types of horizontal networks. Most recent violent attacks have been carried out by infamous, small splinter groups. It is not very meaningful to analyze each group or organization separately in this regard, and thus network analysis is useful.

The following sections will first provide the key concepts of network theories. They will then draw on the changing structure of jihadist organizations in Indonesia by briefly describing family and school ties and their international expansions and limitations. The network surrounding the Malaysian jihadist Noordin M. Top and the changes after his death will then be explained, by highlighting three figures. Before concluding, some implications of emerging Internet networks will be discussed.

I Theological Background

Network theories assume that networks are present everywhere. They can be applied to understand issues ranging from how Christianity spread beyond Judaism to the vulnerability of the Internet and the spread of deadly viruses (Barabasi 2003, 7). Some key concepts and theories on networks give us suggestions to analyze social and political phenomena. This paper highlights several ideas for a deeper understanding of Indonesian jihadist networks.

In his influential book Linked (2003), Barabasi describes al-Qaeda as a military organization not with divisions but with self-organized networks. …

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