Elite In­done­sia po­lice turn tide on mil­i­tants

Kuwait Times - - ANALYSIS -

As the world bat­tles a spike in as­saults and plots by mil­i­tants, In­done­sia’s anti-ter­ror­ism unit is draw­ing praise for stem­ming a wave of bloody at­tacks in the sprawl­ing Mus­lim-ma­jor­ity na­tion. In­done­sia has foiled at least 15 at­tacks this year alone and made more than 150 ar­rests, dis­rupt­ing plots rang­ing from sui­cide at­tacks in Jakarta to a rocket at­tack from In­done­sia’s Batam is­land tar­get­ing Sin­ga­pore.

Go­ing back to 2010, a Reuters anal­y­sis of data shows the elite unit, Spe­cial De­tach­ment 88 (Den­sus 88), has pre­vented at last 54 plots or at­tacks in the na­tion of 250 mil­lion peo­ple, the world’s fourth largest. “Den­sus 88 has be­come bet­ter than pretty well any other counter-ter­ror­ism group in the world,” said Greg Bar­ton, a ter­ror­ism ex­port and re­search pro­fes­sor in Global Is­lamic Pol­i­tics at Al­fred Deakin In­sti­tute in Mel­bourne. “They have had an in­cred­i­ble work­load and they have be­come re­mark­ably good at what they do.”

In the last six years, there has been only one ma­jor at­tack in In­done­sia that caused civil­ian deaths, when as­sailants hit a Jakarta mall and po­lice post with gun­fire and bombs, re­sult­ing in the deaths of three In­done­sians and a dual Al­ge­rian-Cana­dian na­tional. All four at­tack­ers were also killed in the Jan­uary 2016 at­tack. Be­tween 2002 to 2009, there were nine ma­jor at­tacks by mil­i­tants, leav­ing 295 dead and hun­dreds of others wounded. Since its for­ma­tion in 2002, the unit has put a premium on clan­des­tine in­tel­li­gence gath­er­ing. Now much of that in­tel­li­gence work is done on­line, by in­fil­trat­ing and mon­i­tor­ing chat rooms, social me­dia and mes­sag­ing apps pop­u­lar with mil­i­tants.

Self-Suf­fi­cient

Few de­tails about Den­sus 88 are pub­licly avail­able. “We built our or­ga­ni­za­tion to learn from the en­emy,” said a se­nior counter-ter­ror­ism of­fi­cer who pro­vided some in­sight into the work­ing of the unit but spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity. Cre­ated in the af­ter­math of the deadly 2002 Bali bomb­ings that killed more than 200 peo­ple, Den­sus 88 has about 400 to 500 mem­bers, state-of-the-art weaponry and train­ing, said an­other of­fi­cial. It has re­ceived more than $200 mil­lion of fund­ing from Western al­lies such as Aus­tralia and the United States. The unit is headed by a task force, a core of 30 or so se­nior mem­bers, said the In­done­sian law en­force­ment source. “Many of them pos­sess doc­tor­ates and have spe­cial­ties like psy­chol­ogy and social be­hav­ior,” the source added. “They are not like reg­u­lar po­lice.” The black clad, heav­ily armed mem­bers of Den­sus 88 some­times seen dur­ing raids on sus­pected mil­i­tant hide­outs make up a small pro­por­tion of the unit, of­fi­cials say.

Far more per­son­nel are ded­i­cated to gath­er­ing in­tel­li­gence in the field and mon­i­tor­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tions and on­line ac­tiv­ity. There is also a large team of in­ves­ti­ga­tors an­a­lyz­ing that in­tel­li­gence and foren­si­cally ex­am­in­ing ex­plo­sives and other ev­i­dence. Sid­ney Jones, the di­rec­tor of In­sti­tute for Pol­icy Aanal­y­sis of Con­flict (IPAC), said the key to Den­sus 88’s suc­cess lies in its in­tel­li­gence gath­er­ing. “They know the rad­i­cal net­works and have a good set of in­form­ers,” she said. “It is un­par­al­leled in terms of its abil­ity to un­der­stand the sources of pos­si­ble threats.”

Strate­gic In­ter­ro­ga­tion

Den­sus 88 has long been ac­cused by hu­man rights groups of abuses, in­clud­ing beat­ings of alleged sep­a­ratists and Is­lamist sus­pects. In­done­sia’s Na­tional Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion has iden­ti­fied 121 ter­ror­ism sus­pects who have died in cus­tody since 2007 but the po­lice rou­tinely deny us­ing tor­ture or in­ap­pro­pri­ate force in in­ter­ro­ga­tion. Amnesty In­ter­na­tional said ear­lier this year there was an “en­demic cul­ture of im­punity” in In­done­sia’s po­lice ser­vice and a need for an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the “tor­ture” of sus­pects by Den­sus 88.

How­ever, Bar­ton said the unit has adopted a unique, “strate­gic” ap­proach to in­ter­ro­ga­tions that aids in­tel­li­gence gath­er­ing. Sus­pects were kept at po­lice sta­tions rather than in jails and al­lowed to meet their fam­i­lies. “They sit down and lis­ten to their story,” Bar­ton said.

“They get them talk­ing and that’s an ef­fec­tive way of get­ting in­tel­li­gence.” De­spite Den­sus 88’s re­cent suc­cesses, the worry is that the mil­i­tant threat to In­done­sia is mount­ing as Is­lamic State fight­ers re­turn bat­tle-hard­ened from Syria and Iraq. The ul­tra-rad­i­cal group also com­mands sup­port from some In­done­sians who have stayed at home. About 800 In­done­sians have trav­elled to Syria to join Is­lamic State and 169 have been stopped en route and de­ported, ac­cord­ing to In­done­sia’s na­tional counter-ter­ror­ism agency.

In the past two months alone, there have been 40 ar­rests, and at least six at­tacks foiled, ac­cord­ing to the Reuters study, which col­lated data with the as­sis­tance of IPAC staff. At least two of the at­tacks were planned for New Year’s Eve, po­lice said. Many of these plots have been linked to Is­lamic State, with po­lice al­leg­ing they were in­spired, if not di­rected, by Bahrun Naim, an In­done­sian mil­i­tant who fled to Syria about two years ago. “These new homegrown ter­ror­ists and the lo­cal ji­hadists have never gone abroad. But with the ad­vent of the Internet age and tech­nolo­gies like social me­dia, it’s eas­ier to make bombs and ex­plo­sives to do op­er­a­tions,” said the law en­force­ment source. — Reuters

Of­fi­cers of the In­done­sian na­tional po­lice elite unit “Mo­bile Bri­gade” take their po­si­tions dur­ing a drill ahead of Christ­mas cel­e­bra­tion in Medan, North Su­ma­tra on Dec 21, 2016. — AP

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