Jemaah Islamiah, the Southeast Asian regional terror group believed to have perpetrated most, if not all, of the major terrorist attacks in Indonesia, continues to recruit and regenerate despite crackdowns by security agencies across the region.
Despite being on the run, Azahari Husin and Noordin Mohd Top are still able to get new recruits. The Malaysian duo, also Jemaah Islamiah members, are reportedly the masterminds of the Bali, JW Marriott and Australian Embassy bombings.
Interestingly, Jemaah Islamiah`s new recruits come from other Islamist groups in Indonesia, specifically the older but less visible Darul Islam, from which some of the key leaders of Jemaah Islamiah originated.
Is Jemaah Islamiah exploiting the vast Darul Islam network for its own benefits? The two prominent founders of Jemaah Islamiah, Abdullah Sungkar and Abu Bakar Bashir, were initiated into Darul Islam in 1976 by Hispran, short for Haji Ismail Pranoto.
The Jemaah Islamiah duo continued to be members of Darul Islam until 1993, when Sungkar fell out with Ajengan Masduki, one of many Darul Islam leaders then.
Upon Sungkar`s split with Darul Islam, he roped many Darul Islam members into Jemaah Islamiah, and thus the common reference to Darul Islam as Jemaah Islamiah`s parent group. However, this was not the first time that an irreparable crack had appeared in Darul IslamI.
Since the execution in 1962 of S.M. Kartosuwiryo, Darul Islam`s founder, the group has been unable to maintain a cohesive organization with a well-defined structure. The organization is rife with bickering among individual factions over leadership claims and legitimacy tied to individual leaders.
The numbers and size of Darul Islam factions are unknown, even to Darul Islam members themselves. However, there are few ideological or operational differences among the factions; personality and power are the key fault lines.
It is all too common for a member or members to face some irreconcilable differences with the leader, leading to the formation of breakaway factions. Most importantly, power struggles stand at the center of this fragmentation.
One former Darul Islam member said that `DI has degenerated into a group of warlords. Such is the dynamic of Darul Islam that it is hard to keep track of every single faction that claims to continue its struggle for an Indonesian Islamic state in the name of Darul Islam.
This phenomenon is very important to understanding the milieu that Jemaah Islamiah is currently exploiting for recruitment. The fragmentation of Darul Islam has made it easy for Jemaah Islamiah leaders such as Azahari and Noordin to infiltrate and recruit cadres for operational requirements. As some Darul Islam members have claimed, it is the unstructured factions that are very susceptible to infiltration.
Broadly, Darul Islam factions may be categorized as structured and unstructured. Structured factions have a well-defined hierarchy and tight control from the top. There are standard operating procedures and rules and regulations prescribed for members of such factions. Members may even be dishonorably discharged for acting in opposition to, or without instruction of, their leaders.
One structured Darul Islam faction claimed that it even disallowed its members from confronting the enemy (Republic of Indonesia) as the situation is not ripe for any confrontation. A structured faction is exclusive in that members are often discouraged from mingling with the members of a different faction.
In the unstructured factions, there is neither clear leadership nor coordination between members. In the absence of any control from the top, members are free to engage in any actions. Most importantly, they have the freedom to mingle with members of other groups such as Jemaah Islamiah.
Such contacts present invaluable opportunities for Jemaah Islamiah to recruit new members.
Recruiting from the existing Darul Islam milieu is highly advantageous to Jemaah Islamiah. Indoctrination does not need to start from scratch. After all, Jemaah Islamiah was a splinter group of Darul Islam. Members of Darul Islam want to establish an Islamic state in Indonesia and faction members may already have attended some form of military training during their association with Darul Islam. In the current situation of intense surveillance by Indonesia`s intelligence bodies and security forces, recruiting from their parent group may somewhat help to camouflage operations and alleviate the issue of trust.
The Bali and Australian Embassy bombings can testify to this. Although Darul Islam`s profile has become increasingly visible following the Australian Embassy bombing, its members have in fact been implicated in the earlier Bali bombings.
One of the suicide bombers in the Bali bombing (Sari Club suicide bomber), Arnasan alias Jimmy alias Acong alias Iqbal 1 (the suicide bomber who died in Paddy`s club was known as Iqbal 2), was a former member of Darul Islam West Java and was purportedly recruited by Imam Samudera.
The suicide bomber in the Australian Embassy bombing, Heri Golun, was also a member of Darul Islam West Java and he was recruited by Rois, who is believed to be the right-hand man of Noordin.
Although not all of its members are vulnerable to Jemaah Islamiah`s recruitment drive, there will always be a small pool of disenchanted radical members that terrorist groups like Jemaah Islamiah can tap into.
Darul Islam per se may not be dangerous, but it will continue to be a fertile ground for recruitment by other more radical militant groups.
Compounded by Darul Islam`s history of successful and effective regeneration, this problem will not go away anytime soon.
Darul Islam today is mostly dormant; most of its members are lying low and engaging in peaceful socialization of Islam. Darul Islam does not share Jemaah Islamiah`s expertise in bomb-making and many Darul Islam members would testify that they do not target Westerners.
Non-Muslims are not their enemy; the Indonesian state ideology of Pancasila is specifically the principle of the belief in the one and only God. They reject this principle because Allah is not mentioned as that one and only God.
In addition, Darul Islam senior leaders are less keen on armed struggle. Most of them, having been imprisoned before, are probably traumatized and would rather adopt a more peaceful approach.
Nevertheless, the role that Darul Islam plays in providing new recruits to Jemaah Islamiah should not be underestimated. There is a need to understand the current state of Darul Islam and the dynamics of its operations if Jemaah Islamiah is to be deprived of its source of recruitment and support base.
Rohaiza Ahmad Asi is a research analyst at the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies, Nanyang Technological University. - Ed.
By Rohaiza Ahmad Asi The Straits Times, Singapore Asia News Network