Jemaah Islamiyah (JI)
This document prepared by the Counter Extremism Project profiles the Indonesian terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah.
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Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) is a jihadist group in Southeast Asia that seeks to establish a caliphate in the region through violent
means. One of JI’s precursors was Darul Islam, an insurgent movement that gave rise to three separate revolts against the
Indonesian government in the 1950s and 1960s. JI first raised its global profile after carrying out bombings in Bali in 2002 and 2005, killing 202 and 20 people (mostly foreign tourists), respectively. Among other violent operations, JI is known for its links to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing as well as the 1995 failed “Bojinka” plot, an attempt to bomb 12 U.S. commercial airlines in the span of two days. JI has links to al-Qaeda  and the Abu Sayyaf Group  (ASG), a Philippines-based terrorist organization. JI’s co-founder and former leader Abu Bakar Bashir  pledged loyalty to ISIS in July 2014.
However, some reports claim that JI does not support ISIS and remains tied to al-Qaeda.16 Nonetheless, regional
authorities, including Australian intelligence officials, are concerned that JI is loyal to ISIS and could increase terrorist
activities in the region. In July 2008, Bashir established a new group called Jemaah Ansharut Tauhid (JAT), which has since been implicated in numerous terrorist attacks.
Bashir had sought to revive the “Islamic movement” in Indonesia through public outreach and education. In order to serve this purpose, he established JAT as an “open and above-ground” organization, as opposed to the “underground” characteristic of groups such as JI. JAT’s establishment caused a rift within JI, with some members following Bashir and others remaining committed to the original group. JI and JAT disagreed over strategy and tactics, and eventually JI leaders demanded that anyone who joined JAT must leave JI.
JI named Para Wijayanto as its leader in 2008, owing to his experience in the group and operational knowledge. Wijayanto had been involved in the terrorist group’s most notorious bombings dating as far back as 2000, according to Indonesian police.
In 2014, analyst J.M. Berger wrote that JI is defunct. Nevertheless, the group remains a threat given its extensive network
and alleged ties to both ISIS and al-Nusra Front (Hayat Tahrir al-Sham). Australian authorities in particular have
expressed concern about JI foreign fighters returning to the region. This danger is exacerbated by Indonesia’s relatively lax immigration laws, which allow Indonesian citizens to travel in and out of conflict zones. Consequently, Indonesian jihadists who have fought in Iraq and Syria do not face the threat of criminal charges upon returning home. Interviews conducted in February 2016 with current and former JI extremists revealed that the terror group has become more active since the start of the conflict in Syria and is recruiting. Indonesian police believe that JI poses a significant security threat because it maintains a sophisticated training and organizational structure in the country.
Numerous reports indicate a resurgent threat from JI. Indonesian authorities fear militant and radicalized Indonesian-
citizen jihadists returning home after training with JI. Analyst Sidney Jones claims that “We’re all concerned that with
probably close to 200 fighters or supporting personnel in Syria and Iraq from Indonesia that we could see a real boost to
the terrorist movement if they return.” Terrorism analyst Taufik Andrie has stated that returning Indonesian foreign
fighters could also aggravate tensions between Indonesia’s Sunni majority and Shiite minority.
JI has reportedly sought to rebuild its military wing since 2010.
JI has supposedly kept its military activity underground in anticipation of a future confrontation. However, the group has advised its recruits against any violent action. According to the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict, such a dynamic could lead to dissent within JI and the splintering off of a more
Indonesian police believe that a “Neo-JI”—a younger generation of JI militants—has emerged. The new faction developed
after the organization’s leadership suffered heavy losses between 2009 and 2014, as a result of deaths and arrests. Neo-JI is believed to have maintained ties to al-Qaeda in Syria. In 2019, former Indonesian police spokesperson Dedi Prasetyo said that the faction continues to recruit members in order to achieve the group’s ultimate aim of establishing a caliphate in the country. By some estimates, JI as a whole is comprised of between 2,000 to 3,000 members in Indonesia, and has many more supporters and sympathizers in the Muslim majority country.
On June 29, 2019, Indonesian counterterrorism police arrested JI leader Para Wijayanto on the outskirts of Jakarta. He
reportedly attended a jihadist training camp in the Philippines in 2000 and was involved in the 2002 Bali bombings that
killed more than 200 people.
Wijayanto is believed to have become the leader of JI in 2008 and was known to have recruited and trained members to join extremist groups in Syria. During their investigation into Wijayanto, the Indonesian police discovered that JI was using two palm oil farms in Sumatra and Kilamantan to generate income, a new development in the group’s terror financing efforts.37 The revelation sparked fears that JI is regaining strength.
Wijayanto’s trial began on March 18, 2020 on charges of terrorism that carry a possible death penalty. On July 20, 2020, he was sentenced to seven years in prison on the charge of inciting others to commit an act of terrorism.
On December 10, 2020, Indonesia’s counterterrorism police arrested Aris Sumarsono, also known as Zulkarnaen, during a raid on a house in East Lampung district on the island of Sumatra. Zulkarnaen, considered by Indonesian police to be JI’s military commander, had evaded arrest for more than 18 years. Since May 2005, Zulkarnaen has been on the U.N. Security Council’s al-Qaeda sanctions list for his ties to the global terrorist network, as well as association with Osama bin Laden and the Taliban.
The U.S. State Department’s “Rewards for Justice” program also offered $5 million for Zulkarnaen’s arrest. Authorities said he was one of the first Indonesian militants to receive military training in Afghanistan during the 1980s and then spent a decade running a militant training camp in the southern Philippines. In Indonesia, Zulkarnaen
allegedly masterminded several deadly terrorist plots in the early 2000s and built explosives for other attacks, including
those used in the 2002 Bali bombings and the 2003 attack on the JW Marriott in Jakarta.
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