Indonesian extremists are turning over a new leaf
n the heart of Solo city, the staff of an unremarkable-looking restaurant prepare for another day serving hungry locals. The manager, a slightly built man with quick lively gestures, darts about the narrow kitchen, dropping ingredients into sizzling hot pans to make the bistik and other fare that customers - including the local police - crave. With a wife and two children to support, he also runs a car hire business and a laundry service on the side.
One of the millions of small-time business owners that keep the world’s most populous Muslim nation ticking, 40-year-old Mahmudi Haryono is also a poster boy for the transformation of a bomb maker and jihadis into a productive member of society.
To be sure, his extensive jihadi history doesn’t inspire easy trust. It includes being a combatant with the rebel Moro Islamic Liberation Front in the Philippines for three years, where he honed bomb-making skills, and fighting in sectarian conflicts between Muslims and Christians in Indonesia. He was arrested less than a year after the 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202 people and convicted of hiding materials used to make the bombs.
“The fact is that I trained in the Philippines as a jihadis fighter to defend Muslims and I did jihad only when Muslims were oppressed in conflict regions. It was part of my past,” Haryono said. “Today, my priority in life is taking care of my family and business and preaching a path to help reform radical inmates.”
A private foundation has worked intensively with Haryono since his release from prison in 2009, and holds him up as an example of how hardened militants can be reformed. The need for such success stories is great in Indonesia, where several hundred men imprisoned for terrorism offences have been paroled in recent years, including 97 last year.
Since 2002, Indonesian authorities, with US and Australian help, have vastly improved their intelligence gathering and counterterrorism operations. The imprisonment of nearly 800 militants and the killing of more than 100 in raids have weakened the groups under the Al Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiyah network responsible for the Bali tragedy and dozens of other plots and attacks. But efforts to de-radicalise militants in prison have been less successful, partly because ISIS inspires them to hold on to extremism. Two perpetrators of the January 14 suicide bombing in the capital had been released from prison shortly before the attack. “We have to admit the deradicalisation programmes by the non-state groups, and the government, are not enough,” said Taufik Andrie, executive director of Yayasan Prasasti Perdamaian, an institute that helps paroled militants and established the restaurant where Haryono works and in which he now owns a stake.
Andrie estimates that 40 per cent of the more than 400 militants released as of December last year returned to their radical networks. He said some of those people may want a normal life, but few Indonesians want to employ them.
Former militant Joko Purwanto, who uses the alias Handzollah, said he has slowly gained acceptance from the Muslim community that shunned him when he was released from prison two years ago.
Handzollah fought alongside Haryono and was arrested in a 2010. After his release, neighbours ignored his greetings and at the mosque a worshipper called him a terrorist.
“I responded by doing good,” the 41-yearold said. “I didn’t avoid them. Instead I tried to approach mainstream society.
“Gradually, they realised that I’ve changed.”
CHANGE: Mahmudi Haryono and (below) Handzollah busy at work. (Right) Former leader of Jamaah Islamiah, Imron Baihaqi prays at a mosque in Jakarta, Indonesia