Women in Indonesia Increasingly Joining Jihad

Internet spreads radicalism of women

By: Ainur Rohmah

On March 31, police shot dead a 25-year-old woman identified as Zakiah Aini who carried a weapon into Jakarta’s National Police Headquarters before she could open fire. Police say she carried out the attack herself, a lone wolf possibly radicalized via the internet and social media.

She wasn’t the first. In the same week, Lukman Alfariz, 26, and his wife Yogi Safitri Fortuna, used pressure cooker bombs to blow themselves up outside a Roman Catholic cathedral during Palm Sunday Mass on Sulawesi island which wounded at least 20 people, raising concerns that terrorism by single actors will repeat itself considering widespread and growing fanaticism and the potential recruitment of online radicals. Indonesia’s formidable anti-terrorist organization Densus-88, which tends to shoot first and ask questions later, has arrested dozens of suspected terrorists after the Makassar and Police Headquarters attacks.

According to a survey by the National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT) published in December 2020, 85 percent of Indonesia's millennial generation are said to be vulnerable to exposure to being exposed to radicalism. Some succumb to become involved in terrorist groups via the internet and social media, enticed by the offer of a shortcut to heaven via suicide bombings.

Last December, for example, an e-book was discovered listing nearly 600 video titles and radical propaganda created by online extremists, along with tutorials for accessing them on the online digital library archive.org. Titles include "And do Jihad in the way of Allah with real jihad," "And kill them wherever you find them" "And let them feel the violence from you." They were still stored on archive.org at the time of writing.

"After watching the content that has been provided on the Archive channel, all of you can immediately carry out the lightest task, namely by starting to preach to your family and closest friends," according to the e-book, obtained by Asia Sentinel.

“Police need to infiltrate terror works among women and hold discussions with sympathizers of IS women who were deported from Turkey some time ago,” according to Sidney Jones, the director of the Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC). There is an ominous shift in understanding, she said, among female extremists from being only supporters to now seeking to commit active acts of terror.

The government is aggressively monitoring the recruitment of terrorists via the internet and attempting to strengthen the deradicalization program for apprehended former terrorists, some of whom nonetheless are still recruiting new members. According to data from Jones’ IPAC, between 2002 and 2020 as many as 90 of the 825 former terrorist convicts – 11.4 percent – returned to involvement in the terrorist movement after leaving prison.

Alimatul Qibtiyah, a member of Indonesia’s National Commission on Women (Komnas Perempuan), confirmed that women are becoming radicalized through various motivating factors including a war strategy that exploits the stereotype that women don’t commit violence, a fulfillment of the psychological needs of women in the movement to be acknowledged and because of other psychological burdens – and a need on the part of the movement to supplement the declining numbers of male combatants.

"These things also cannot be separated from the influence of the trend of preaching that does not teach critical thinking, resulting in identity polarization and acts of extremism," she said.

IPAC data show that the number of female terrorism convicts in Indonesia has increased significantly since ISIS issued its 2014 intent to create a global caliphate, from only four before the emergence of ISIS to 39 last September. Factors of female involvement in terrorism networks are diverse, from a desire to be devoted to their parents to the most common one, deep immersion in self-radicalization through religion, including through reading and watching videos legitimizing terrorism as well as those depicting violence against Muslims in various parts of the world.

This radicalization process is facilitated by easy access to the internet and social media that connects like-minded extremists. Both women and men can now easily access information about ISIS and other radical groups.

Moreover, ISIS provides a greater opportunity for women to take an active role compared to previous groups such as Al-Qaeda – or Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) in Indonesia – which began to weaken in about 2017.

The growing number of female jihadist role models also inspires other women to more active involvement. Instead of following in the footsteps of their husbands, many female extremists have come to know ISIS first and are looking for husbands who share the same ideology as theirs.

Trend of Family Cell Attacks

Terrorism expert Al Chaidar said the church attackers in Makassar were a Wahabi Takfiri group with an anti-Christian mindset. The couple, he suspects, were driven by their desire for revenge because Densus-88 arrested dozens of their colleagues, two of whom were shot dead, for their involvement in sending funds to suicide bombers who attacked a church in Jolo in the southern Philippines in 2019.

Zakiah and the married couple were members of Jemaah Anshorut Daulah (JAD), which has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group and carried out a series of suicide bombings in Indonesia. The pattern of attacks in Makassar is the same as incidents in Surabaya, East Java, in 2018 and the attacks in Jolo, which were carried out by family members and targeted a Catholic church.

Terrorism Expert Noor Huda Ismail said he believes the church bombing in Makassar has again marked the activation of "family cells" in the sense that one family plays a direct role in the front line in the terror attack. This is all the more dangerous because preparations for their attacks are easier to carry out and they do not have to always use telecommunications equipment which the police might be able to intercept.

Muhammad Syauqillah, a terrorism specialist at the University of Indonesia, said he suspects the bombing in Makassar was not only motivated by a desire for revenge, but also a mission to carry out an attack (amaliyah) ahead of the holy month of Ramadan. Similarly, in 2019 a 22-year-old youth attempted to attack a security post in Sukoharjo, Central Java.

The terrorists believe that worship, including jihad, carried out during the month of Ramadan will be rewarded many times more than any other month, as preached by Abu Muhammad Al-Adnani, an ISIS spokesman who died in 2016. A video of Adnani continues to circulate among extremists, including in a WhatsApp group that I monitor with members of ISIS sympathizers.

"So hurry up, O Muslims. Hurry up for jihad. And the mujahidin (jihadists) who are everywhere will be happy. Come on to make this Ramadan a calamity month for the unbelievers," Adnani thundered in the videotape.

Noor Huda warns that further attacks are likely. “The party isn't over yet,” he said. “It's just the beginning. We all have to be on guard. Moreover, we will soon enter the month of Ramadan," he said.

The Islamic holy month of fasting begins April 13.