Last Wednesday, the leader of a terrorist group linked to a series of deadly attacks conducted nearly two decades ago went on trial in Indonesia. The development highlighted how the terrorism challenge continues to loom over Indonesia in various ways even amid the broader set of issues that policymakers confront.
While the most recent wave of terrorism may have seen an overwhelming focus in the headlines on the Islamic State and related groups, Indonesia has seen previous waves of terrorism, including in the 2000s, when Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), regarded as the Southeast Asian offshoot of al-Qaeda, was held responsible for some of the deadliest terror attacks in the subregion, including the 2002 Bali bombings. While subsequently banned and significantly weakened, JI nonetheless remains in the mix of terrorist groups in Indonesia amid occasional attacks that have occurred, with the last major one occurring in Surabaya back in 2018.
Last week, we saw another instance that spotlighted the JI aspect of Indonesia’s terrorism with a leader of the network going on trial. Para Wijayanto, a civil engineer who is suspected to have become the leader of the banned group in 2009, went on trial last Wednesday on charges of terrorism. He was finally arrested along with his wife in July 2019 by counterterrorism police after being wanted since 2003.
Wijayanto represents one of the key figures within the previous wave of Indonesia’s encounter with terrorism. As the prosecutor Ade Solehudin detailed in the court proceedings, Wijayanto’s links with jihadism had been extensive both within and beyond Indonesia, including military training at a jihadi camp in the southern Philippines in 2000, involvement in sectarian conflict in Poso in Sulawesi, bombmaking in the lead up to terrorist attacks in the 2000s including one targeting the Australian embassy, and his recruitment and training of members of JI’s military wing some of whom were sent to Syria to fight with al-Qaeda-linked groups.
To be sure, despite this being in the headlines and representing some measure of justice for previous attacks in Indonesia, a lot still remains uncertain. For one, apart from Wijayanto’s specific sentence, justice in court is only one aspect of Indonesia’s extremism challenge – indeed, there continue to be cases of radicalization occurring within prison cells among convicts. For another, terrorism is far from a thing of the past for Indonesia despite what some of the coverage on Wijayanto’s trial might suggest: though there are other challenges confronting Indonesian policymakers including the global coronavirus pandemic, terrorism still remains a major concern and has tended to wax and wane amid occasional attacks.
Nonetheless, Wijayanto’s trial nonetheless serves as another reminder of how terrorism continues to loom over Indonesia in various ways – past, present, and future. As such, it will be in the mix of developments that are closely watched in this regard in the coming weeks.