WATCH: Indonesian Counter terrorism chief says more terrorists can strike anytime
Exclusive Interview with Indonesian counter terrorism head Saut Usman Nasution #JakartaAttacksPosted by Natashya Gutierrez on Sunday, 17 January 2016
SENTUL, Indonesia – Just days after the series of blasts that shook downtown Jakarta, counter terrorism chief Saud Usman Nasution sat down with Rappler for an exclusive interview to speak about the terror threat in Indonesia.
On Monday, January 18, Nasution gave assurances his agency continues to monitor terrorist activities, leading to the arrest over the holidays of 5 members of an alleged extremist network allegedly linked to a planned suicide bombing in Jakarta during New Year celebrations.
He did admit however, that the terror threat in the country remains serious, saying there are many terror cells and networks throughout the country that could strike any time, as soon as they get the chance.
Nasution also talked about loopholes in Indonesia's anti-terrorism law, which does not allow arrests of those who are known to be hard-liners or with extremist views, and are permitted to spread propaganda or openly express support for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). ISIS has claimed responsibility for the Jakarta attacks. (READ: 4 things you need to know about ISIS in Indonesia)
"Indonesia is a democracy. We accept hard-liners and moderates," Nasution said, explaining why ISIS supporters have been allowed to gather in public and express their allegiance to the jihadist group. (READ: Jakarta and ISIS: What we need to know)
He then talked about a pending bill that would alter the law to give authorities more legal remedies to arrest suspected terrorists. Currently, there is no law that prohibits Indonesians from recruiting others or from joining training camps for terrorists.
Nasution also discussed his agency's deradicalization program which he said is generally successful, but said that an "average of 24" of 215 Indonesians still in jail for terrorism activities continue to be hard-liners and refuse to be deradicalized.
Among them is Abu Bakar Ba'asyir, 77, who has been sentenced to 15 years in prison for funding a training camp for terrorists in Aceh. Ba'asyir is known to be the spiritual head of Jemaah Islamiyah, with known ties to Al-Qaeda and allegiance to ISIS.
The counter terrorism head said because of overcrowding in the prisons in Indonesia, Ba'asyir is allowed to mingle with other prisoners who have been arrested for various charges, admitting the prisons have become a space to teach and spread radical ideology. He insisted however, that the government's deradicalization program has been generally succesful.
Cracks in system
Ironically, Afif alias Sunakin, one of the terrorists who died during the attacks and was pictured carrying a gun in a photo that has gone viral on social media, trained in an Islamic paramilitary camp in Indonesia's semi-autonomous Aceh region in 2010, before he was sentenced to 7 years in jail for his involvement in the camp. Afif was released last year but not monitored, because Nasution told Rappler he appeared to have been deradicalized.
"He was a good actor," Nasution said in the interview.
Nasution said those who are hard-liners, when they are freed from prison, are constantly monitored by authorities – although he admits it is a challenge to do so because they are "free men" after their sentence.
Bahrun Naim for instance, who police say are behind the attacks, was arrested in November 2010 and was sentenced to 2.5 years in prison for possession of illegal ammunition but the court said there was not enough evidence for terror charges.
He was released in June 2012, and staged the latest Jakarta attacks about 3 and a half years later. He is said to be in Syria where he heads Katibah Nusantara, the grouping of Southeast Asian fighters there.
Other flaws in the system also became evident during the interview.
Nasution told Rappler there were 5 terrorists during the Jakarta attacks, but a day earlier, Jakarta police spokesperson Sen. Comr. Muhammad Iqbal said there were only 4 – after only 4 of those who died were identified as terrorists. (READ: Jakarta attacks: Did some terrorists escape?)
Asked whether it meant the other terrorist got away, Nasution said one body had not yet been identified despite the police announcing the identities of all the victims the day before. He continued to insist there were 5 terrorists – highlighting the lack of coordination between government agencies and authorities.
Addressing root causes
The chief also talked about the need for the government to address root causes that cause terrorism such as social inequality and poverty, and appealed to the public to do their part in combatting terrorism by integrating them into social activities and reporting those with suspicious activities.
Rappler's interview with Nasution comes days after suicide attackers struck the Indonesian capital Thursday, January 14, with a series of explosions and gunfire that tore through a Starbucks cafe and shook an embassy district in the Muslim-majority nation.
At least 8 people have died – including 4 terrorists and 4 civilians, in what the country's president dubbed "acts of terror." – Rappler.com