In­done­sian ex­trem­ists are turn­ing over a new leaf

7 Days in Dubai - - SPECIAL REPORT -

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

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