World

Jemaah Islamiah active once more

Indonesian police believe the extremist group could pose a bigger threat than ISIS in the country

As Indonesia's counter-terrorism forces hunt down supporters of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) following last month's bomb attack in Jakarta, a quiet resurgence of a homegrown radical network with a far deadlier track record is unfolding there.

That group is Jemaah Islamiah (JI), whose network was until recently thought to have been severely degraded by a crackdown that put hundreds of its leaders and followers behind bars after a series of attacks on Western interests in the past.

But Reuters interviews with two active members and one former member of JI have revealed that it is active again. It is enlisting new supporters, raising funds and sending men to train in war-torn Syria.

"JI is currently in preparation level. They have not done any operations, but they are recruiting people, strengthening their knowledge, education, network and finances," said Nasir Abas, a former member.

"I would not underestimate them."

Jakarta-based security analyst Sidney Jones believes JI's membership is back to around 2,000, where it was before its most notorious attack - the 2002 bombing on the resort island of Bali that killed over 200 people, most of them Australians.

JI suspects arrested recently were found with caches of arms.

Experts say there is no evidence that the emergence of the ultra-violent ISIS from the crucible of conflict in the Middle East has prompted the revival of JI in Indonesia.

The group had links in the past to al-Qaeda, which ISIS sees as a rival, but its resurgence is not being read as intra-jihadi competition playing out in South-east Asia.

BIGGER THREAT

Indonesian police believe JI's sophisticated training, organisation and funding could pose a bigger security threat.

Mr Nasir said its ranks still include older men who trained in Afghanistan in the 1980s and returned with combat experience and bomb-making skills.

Then there is the more ample funding: Experts estimate that the weapons used in last month's attack on the Indonesian capital cost no more than US$70 (S$98), a shoestring budget compared to the US$50,000 spent to launch the Bali bombings more than 13 years ago.

JI once had cells across South-east Asia, including Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand, with a goal of establishing an Islamic state across the region.

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