Indonesian Campus Arrests Underscore Student Radicalism

After Indonesia's anti-terror squad arrested three suspects at a Riau Province university, fears are growing that educational institutions are being radicalized in a country more and more jittery from the increased – and deadly – presence of Islamic State jihadis home from the Middle East.

Anti-terror personnel with automatic rifles entered the University of Riau in Pekanbaru, the capital of the east Sumatra province on June 2, shocking students and the surrounding community. The suspects, identified only by their initials BI, ED, and MNZ, were arrested in the student arena building, where they had stayed for the past month. Riau Police Chief Inspector Gen. Nandang said the suspected terrorists, who are in their early 30s and are alumni of the university, had assembled bombs in the building and planned to blow up parliament buildings in Riau and Jakarta.

"Based on their confession, four bombs were to be detonated at the house of representatives buildings in Riau and Jakarta," said Nandang, adding that evidence confiscated included two pipe bombs, various types of explosives, two bows and eight arrows.

He said one of the suspected terrorists, known as MNZ, is an expert on making bombs and distributing tutorials on bomb assembly social media. MNZ also allegedly had links with suspected members of Jamaah Anshorut Daulah, an organization identified by US intelligence as a terrorist group in 2017. One JAD member was Mursalim, one of the attackers of the Riau Police Headquarters on May 16. Mursalim and three other attackers, as well as a policeman, died in the incident. The police accused JAD, affiliated with the Islamic State (IS), as a terrorist group that had carried out a series of terror attacks since 2016.

Radicalism in Educational Institutions

Concerns about the spread of radicalism in educational institutions in Indonesia have been repeatedly expressed by both government and non-government agencies. The latest data was submitted by the Head of the State Intelligence Agency (BIN), Budi Gunawan, who said nearly 40 percent of students at some of the top universities in 15 provinces have been exposed to radical views, referring to an agency report published in April 2018. Three universities got special attention because they have the potential to become the basis for the spread of radicalism.

The report “is increasingly asserting that campuses are a target for radical groups to mobilize new terrorist candidates," Gunawan said.

Another survey by the Jakarta-based organization Alvara Research Center and Mata Air Foundation found that nearly 20 percent of high school and university students in Indonesia support the establishment of a caliphate in the country.

The survey was conducted in September and October 2017, polling about 4,200 Muslim students, mostly in top schools and universities on Java. At least 25 percent of the respondents said they were ready to fight for their religious beliefs to achieve a caliphate.

Some recent events increasingly prove these concerns, which young people are suspected of being terrorists arrested, even acting as suicide bombing executors.

The public was shocked by 18-year-old Yusuf and his brother Firman, 16, who carried out a stunning suicide bombing at Santa Maria Tak Bercela Church in Surabaya City on May 13. They were the sons of Dian Oeprianto, who carried out a suicide bombing at the same time in Center Pentecostal church. While Dian's wife and two daughters, 12-year-old Fadhila and Pamela, only 9, committed suicide bombings at Indonesian Diponegoro Christian Church. At least 18 people died and dozens were injured in the attack after an unprecedented incident that involved the whole family as suicide bombers.

The day before the church attack in Surabaya, police arrested two women, Dita Siska Millenia, 18, and Siska Nur Azizah, 21, who allegedly planned to attack police with scissors.

Stronger Anti-Terrorism Law

The arrest of the three suspected terrorists in Riau came just days after Indonesia’s House of Representatives passed a stronger anti-terrorism law giving greater authority to security forces to overcome terrorism-related offenses.

Head of the National Legal Development Agency of the Ministry of Law and Human Rights, Enny Nurbaningsih said the new law emphasizes the precautionary aspects of terrorist acts, expanding police authority by taking preemptive action against suspected terrorists before attacks occur.

"Including bomb-making activities, we couldn’t do anything against them before, but with this law, we can arrest them, so at least there are aspects of prevention from the beginning before a crime occurred," said Nurbaningsih.

The government submitted revisions to a 2003 anti-terrorism law that was considered weak after an attack on Thamrin Road in Jakarta in January 2016 killed at least eight including the attackers. The amendment process at the parliament was in limbo for around two years but was fast-tracked following the May bombings in Surabaya.

The law also features provisions not included in the anti-terrorism law, including lengthening detention periods, army involvement in anti-terrorism policies, crafting new criminal acts that can ensnare terrorists, and granting greater authority to the Counter Terrorism Agency (BNPT) in the effort to prevent terrorism.

Nurbaningsih said the law triples the maximum detention period without charge for suspected militants to 21 days and doubles the entire permissible detention period from the arrest to trial to more than two years.

But Amnesty International Indonesia criticized the newly-passed law, saying it contains a number of draconian articles that threaten to undermine human rights.

“The new law erodes safeguards against arbitrary detention and against torture and other ill-treatment, as well as expanding the scope of the application of the death penalty," Amnesty's executive director Usman Hamid said.

The organization also expressed concern with plans to deploy the military in counter-terrorism operations. “The vagueness of some of the law’s wording could be used by authorities to restrict freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly or misused to label peaceful political activities as terrorism," Hamid said.

He urged authorities to protect the right to a fair trial and safeguard against torture and other ill-treatment, as well as to ensure that detainees are not restricted in their access to lawyers and that regular contact with family members or a relevant third party is guaranteed.