Jemaah Islamiyah 20 Years After the Bali Bombings: Continuity and Change
Twenty years after the Bali bombings of October 2002, the Al-Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) terrorist network remains a threat, albeit an evolving one. JI has shifted from a posture of armed jihad to a low-key strategy of building up support and spreading its ideology through clandestine penetration of political and social sectors of Indonesian society. Its focus may currently be on establishing an Islamic State in Indonesia, but it likely retains ambitions for a regional caliphate as well. IS may be the current “Tier 1” threat to many observers, but in the longer term, JI may well be the more enduring one.
The 12 October 2002 bombings of the Sari Club and Paddy’s Irish Bar on the Indonesian tourist island of Bali, an attack perpetrated by the Al-Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) terrorist network that killed 202 civilians, was a pivotal moment for Southeast Asia’s militant landscape.
The attacks galvanised all Southeast Asian governments, resulting in intensified counter-terrorism (CT) capacity-building, transnational cooperation and intelligence sharing. The Bali bombings actually represented a “Plan B”. A previous joint Al-Qaeda-JI plan to attack Western diplomatic missions and commercial interests as well as local government targets in Singapore had been thwarted some 10 months earlier in December 2001. The arrests of JI militants in Singapore had sent shock waves across the city-state, as evidence was unearthed linking JI to the horrific Al-Qaeda attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C., just a few months earlier on September 11, 2001.
JI, set up in January 1993 by Al-Qaeda-influenced followers of the older Darul Islam armed separatist movement in Indonesia after World War II, had established cells in neighbouring Malaysia and Singapore by the 1990s, in a quest to establish a modern Daulah Islamiyah Nusantara, or Southeast Asian caliphate, spanning southern Thailand to Australia, via armed jihad or holy war. Southeast Asian JI fighters had fought or trained together with Muslim combatants from around the world during the Soviet-Afghan War in the 1980s and 1990s, and subsequently returned to the region, indoctrinated in Al-Qaeda’s virulent global jihad ideology. By the early 2000s, they began mounting attacks in Indonesia and the Philippines with a view to actualising JI’s Southeast Asian caliphate vision. The so-called Singapore plot of December 2001, described above, was part of this effort. By the early 2010s, the transnational Southeast Asian JI network had been dismantled, while the arrests of senior Indonesian JI leaders such as Abu Bakar Ba’asyir, Abu Dujana and Zarkasih had resulted in the virtual decimation of the network in that country.
Between the Bali bombings of October 2002 and October 2021, some 876 JI members were arrested. As Alif Satria recounts in this volume, numerous arrests by a rapidly improving Indonesian counter-terrorism apparatus post-Bali depleted JI’s ranks, especially between 2002 and 2009. As a result, the relative severity of JI’s attacks steadily declined. Hence, while the 2002 Bali attacks resulted in over 500 casualties, the subsequent 2004 Australian Embassy bombing produced 200 casualties, while the J.W. Marriott and Ritz-Carlton attacks five years later generated 60 casualties. The massive security force pressure on and decimation of JI ranks, post-Bali, ultimately compelled the network’s leaders to reassess the value of violence. Certainly, following a significant 2007 security operation that crippled a key JI base in Poso, Central Sulawesi, JI leaders calculated that a strategy of violence could no longer be sustained. JI thus “chose to prioritise dakwah” – or Islamic proselytisation – instead.
Certainly, JI’s strategic shift to a lower-key approach by the 2010s was accompanied by the emergence of other threat groups in that period. By mid-2014, Indonesian and regional government attention had been captured by the global rise of the Islamic State (IS), an even more virulent offshoot of Al-Qaeda. That IS Central sees Southeast Asia’s Muslim populations as a strategic resource apt for radicalisation and recruitment, was driven home forcefully by the five-month battle between the Philippine military and pro-IS Philippine Islamist threat groups between May and October 2017, and the continuing spate of suicide and other lone-actor or small-scale attacks by pro-IS Indonesian and Philippine threat groups since. In this volume, Kenneth Yeo and Unaesah Rahmah provide a good analysis of the typical attack modalities employed by pro-IS regional threat groups and lone actors since 2014. In Indonesia, for instance, by 2016, pro-IS networks such as Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD), “building off of the structures of older groups” such as Darul Islam, relatively quickly became “Indonesia’s largest terrorist network, conducting five terrorist attacks in the span of three years”.
The adroit use of social media platforms by IS and its affiliates in Southeast Asia for radicalisation and recruitment also attracted much policy attention. Given that, it is unsurprising that the 2022 Terrorism Threat Assessment Report by the Singaporean authorities asserted that “within Southeast Asia, ISIS affiliates are the primary driver of terrorism and pose the most immediate threat through their ability to mount ISIS-inspired attacks”.
The foregoing analysis does not, however, imply that 20 years after the Bali bombings, JI can be written off. It is worth noting that of the aforementioned 876 JI members arrested since the 2002 Bali bombings, 339 – almost 40 percent – were arrested in 2021 alone. Moreover, observers have noted that “JI has become stronger” as well as “far more sophisticated, adaptable, capable of good organisation and [of] exploiting issues”. Indonesian officials have admitted that JI is currently not just “well structured”, but its members are – ominously – “more militant than IS recruits”, and had even been found to have set up “weapons warehouses”. In short, JI seems to be regenerating. The reason for this requires a better understanding of its ideology and strategic philosophy.
PUPJI, Para Wijayanto and Strategi Tamkin
From 2009 to 2019, led by a new, low-profile leader, Para Wijayanto, JI entered a quiet rebuilding phase in Indonesia, in which emphasis was placed on a gradual, methodical strengthening of the social, economic and political pre-conditions for an eventual armed jihad campaign to forcibly establish an Indonesian Islamic State. In a nutshell, since 2009, JI has gone back to basics, adhering to the guidelines first outlined in its strategic playbook, the Pedoman Umum Perjuangan Al-Jama’ah Al-Islamiyah (PUPJI, or The General Guidelines of the JI Struggle). Formulated by JI’s senior leadership and issued in May 1996, PUPJI articulated JI’s entire ideological and strategic philosophy, covering topics ranging from religious interpretations, to strategic and operational discussions, to decision-making processes and combat tactics. In the decade under Wijayanto’s leadership, JI refocused on an Indonesia-centric agenda in the medium term, and essentially halted the violence that only attracted severe security crackdowns.
To reiterate, PUPJI emphasises that jihad musallah, or armed jihad, can only be waged in Indonesia when JI is not just militarily ready but, importantly, has also garnered sufficient community support. Wijayanto, seeking to realign the battered post-Bali JI network with PUPJI guidelines, thus enunciated strategi tamkin, a “methodical” strategy of “acquisition and consolidation of influence over territory and to build support”. Certainly, by the time of Wijayanto’s arrest in 2019, strategi tamkin was proving its worth. JI had by then established stronger grassroots support and an economic base – some members apparently owned palm oil plantations and clove and cacao fields around Indonesia, and also ran religious schools and charities, all of which generated funds for the network.
Strategi Tamkin Further Operationalised: Tamkin Siyasi and Tandzim Sirri
In November 2021, Farid Ahmad Okbah, a preacher and chairman of the little-known Indonesian People’s Dakwah Party (Partai Dakwah Rakyat Indonesia, or PDRI); Ahmad Zain An-Najah, a member of the Fatwa Commission of the Majelis Ulama Indonesia (MUI), the nation’s top Islamic clerical body; and Anung al-Hamat, a university lecturer, were arrested. It was revealed that while Ahmad Zain was also a board member of a JI-linked charitable foundation, and Anung headed another foundation providing financial and legal aid to arrested JI members, Farid was not just the PDRI chairman, but also a member of JI’s consultative council and a personal advisor to Para Wijayanto. These arrests suggested that JI’s strategi tamkin was being further operationalised. JI seemed to be evolving into a truly hybrid model, adding an incipient political front to its active dakwah and currently latent armed jihad fronts. This incipient political route, an aspect of the wider strategi tamkin, is called tamkin siyasi. Tamkin siyasi, formalised in 2016 by Para Wijayanto, emphasises penetration of societal institutions so as to better promote dakwah and education, and capture the hearts and minds of Indonesian Muslims.
The tamkin siyasi emphasis on active engagement in the political arena represents a significant departure from earlier JI leadership attitudes, which tended to regard overt political involvement as un-Islamic. However, the strong role of hardline Islamist groups in the so-called 212 Movement rallies of 2016 that helped defeat the then incumbent Jakarta governor, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (also known as Ahok), in the gubernatorial election the following year, proved a game-changer of sorts. From around 2019 onwards, JI clerics actively urged Indonesians to vote for parliamentary candidates who could ensure that Muslim interests were accommodated in the public sphere. The latest, highly significant illustration of JI’s tamkin siyasi approach in the political sector was its attempt to “establish, control or infiltrate a political party”, exemplified by the aforementioned Farid Okbah’s efforts in first establishing the Masyumi (Majelis Syuro Muslimin Indonesia) Party in November 2020 and subsequently the PDRI in May 2021. Importantly, JI members who infiltrate political parties like PDRI exercise the tandzim sirri principle – that is, their actual JI links are concealed. Hence, non-JI PDRI members may not even be aware of JI’s presence within their ranks.
Crucially, JI is not implementing tamkin siyasi and tandzim sirri in the political sector alone. An Indonesian counter-terrorism official admitted in November 2021 that it was very possible that JI has “also infiltrated other religious organisations, even sports organisations and bike clubs” and that, since 2010, more than 30 JI-linked civil servants, police officers and military officials had been detained – all of whom were “adept at concealing their true identity”. By some estimates, at least 19 civil servants, eight police officers and five military officials were arrested between 2010 and May 2022 for their JI links. Moreover, JI has expanded its recruitment activities within top Indonesian universities. Clearly, the aim is to influence the hearts and minds of graduates who would one day assume strategic leadership positions within key government agencies. Analysts contend that while the true extent of JI’s penetration of Indonesian state, civil and political institutions is unknown because of the tandzim sirri principle, thus far, it is likely still relatively less extensive compared to that of the now-proscribed Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI).
In sum, JI’s strategi tamkin, which as shown incorporates tamkin siyasi initiatives in the political and other spheres, is a decidedly “long-term strategy that aims to change the Indonesian democratic system into a Sharia-based one, and influence the policies of the respective government agencies”.
The foregoing analysis may seem to inadvertently suggest that since JI is playing the long game in Indonesia, the threat to Indonesia and the wider region is somewhat over the horizon and hence not overly concerning. This, however, would be a mistaken assumption, for four key reasons.
First, while JI has been emphasising tamkin siyasi and tandzim sirri, actively spreading its ideology clandestinely within Indonesian state, political, civil and other institutions, this does not mean that it poses only a longer-term, subversive threat. It has also been discreetly laying the groundwork for future military operations, establishing weapons caches as mentioned, and assigning returning militarily skilled cadres from Syria to work in “several strategic government institutions that shape the country’s decision-making, such as the Ministry of Defence and the Supreme Court”. Also, the JI movement today – as in the past – is hardly monolithic. There exist hardline JI factions with military capabilities that may well wish to embark on a “jihad now” approach and conduct attacks, rather than stick with the mainstream JI’s “jihad later” strategy. In the continuing absence of strong, strategic leadership of the calibre of Para Wijayanto, JI could factionalise, with impatient “jihad now” elements posing a threat to Indonesian society – as well as foreign assets and interests in the country – in the near term as well.
Second, it is worth remembering that JI has historically had regional aspirations, too. In 1999, JI formed the Rabitatul Mujahidin (RM), or Mujahidin Coalition, to bring together JI and regional violent Islamist groups from the southern Philippines, Aceh and Sulawesi in Indonesia, and Rohingya groups from Myanmar. While RM was a loose network that was short-lived, it was a “potentially force-multiplying extension of JI” because of the shared notion of a regional “radical Islamist brotherhood”. Significantly, Singaporean intelligence officials assessed in December 2021 that “JI likely retains its aspirations to establish a Daulah Islamiyah” in Southeast Asia and “could again set its sights on recruiting regional affiliates”. Current Indonesian security assessments likewise indicate that, while JI is for the moment focused on establishing an Islamic state in Indonesia, the original JI vision of a pan-Southeast Asian caliphate remains on the books. Hence, regional P/CVE and CT cooperation should not just focus on dealing with the threat posed by pro-IS groups online and in the real world, but also maintain a watching brief for indicators of reactivation of regional JI activity – in particular, JI attempts to revive the old RM coalition in some form, in pursuit of its longer-term “ambitions of establishing a Daulah Islamiyah” in Southeast Asia “through armed jihad”.
Third, while as noted the extent of the penetration of the Indonesian political arena by JI elements is still relatively incipient – the JI-influenced PDRI appears to currently lack the financial resources and the countrywide infrastructure to mount a significant contest in the 2024 General Election – vigilance is required. As discussed, JI, under strategi tamkin, is focusing on a gradualist tamkin siyasi approach, quietly infiltrating a range of civil and political associations whilst strictly adhering to the tandzim sirri secrecy principle. This way, JI is “spreading its ideology in secret”. This is surreptitiously strengthening wider radical trends in Indonesian Islam, potentially fostering a more exclusivist socio-political milieu for the JI-influenced political parties to gradually expand their influence. It is, after all, noticeable that elements within even those bastions of moderate Indonesian Islam, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) and Muhammadiyah, have had to struggle with internal elements that are relatively more hardline in orientation toward non-Muslim minorities. For instance, Ustaz Abdul Somad Batubara, a religious cleric and social media personality with 6.5 million followers on Instagram, 2.7 million subscribers on YouTube and in excess of 700,000 followers on Facebook – and who was denied entry into Singapore in May 2022 for extremist comments he made about the city-state and non-Muslims – is linked with NU. It thus behooves regional governments and civil society to monitor the dissemination, via the ubiquitous social media, of JI-like extremist tropes within body politics in the region, and engage in strategic and proactive counter-narrative efforts in response.
Finally, it is worth recognising that JI – influenced by the long-term vision of PUPJI to play the long game – is not in a tearing hurry either. In fact, the return of the Taliban to power in Afghanistan in August 2021, 20 years after its ouster, if anything, affirms to JI leaders that the “strategic patience” built into the long-term tamkin siyasi strategy assures future success. IS may hence be the current “Tier 1” threat to many observers, but in the longer term, JI may well be the more enduring one.
About the Author:
Kumar Ramakrishna is Associate Dean (Policy Studies), Head of the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research, and Research Advisor, National Security Studies Programme, at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore. He can be reached at [email protected].
 Kumar Ramakrishna, Radical Pathways: Understanding Muslim Radicalization in Indonesia (Westport: Praeger Security International, 2009), pp. 1-2.
 Ministry of Home Affairs Singapore, The Jemaah Islamiyah Arrests and the Threat of Terrorism: White Paper (Singapore: Ministry of Home Affairs, 2003), p. 4, https://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/printheritage/detail/2125a7b0-9a25-47ca-bf7f-a74a41a4261b.aspx.
 See V. Arianti, “Jemaah Islamiyah After the 2002 Bali Bombings: Two Decades of Continuity and Transformation,” in this volume.
 See Alif Satria, “Two Decades of Counterterrorism in Indonesia: Successful Developments and Future Challenges,” in this volume.
 For a good background on IS, see Fawaz Gerges, ISIS: A History (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2016).
 See Kenneth Yeo and Unaesah Rahmah, “Change, Continuity and Trajectories: Assessing Southeast Asian Terrorists’ Attack Tactics and Trends Post-Bali Bombings,” in this volume.
 Satria, “Two Decades of Counterterrorism.”
 Internal Security Department, Singapore Terrorism Threat Assessment Report 2022 (Singapore: Ministry of Home Affairs, 2022), p. 4, https://www.mha.gov.sg/docs/default-source/default-document-library/singapore-terrorism-threat-assessment-report-2022.pdf.
 Arianti, “Jemaah Islamiyah After the 2002 Bali Bombings.”
 Kusumasari Ayuningtyas, “Police Links Killed Siyono with Neo Jamaah Islamiyah,” The Jakarta Post, March 15, 2016, https://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2016/03/15/police-links-killed-siyono-with-neo-jamaah-islamiyah.html.
 Arianti, “Jemaah Islamiyah After the 2002 Bali Bombings.”
 V. Arianti, “Jemaah Islamiyah’s Hierarchical Structure: Security Implications for Indonesia,” Counter Terrorist Trends and Analyses Vol. 13, No. 3 (June 2021), pp. 15-21, https://www.rsis.edu.sg/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/CTTA-Jun-2021.pdf.
 Alif Satria, “The Neo-JI Threat: Jema’ah Islamiyah’s Resurgence in Indonesia Follows an Old Playbook,” New Mandala, August 16, 2019, https://www.newmandala.org/the-neo-ji-threat-jemaah-islamiyahs-resurgence-in-indonesia-follows-an-old-playbook/. While in recent years the term “Neo-JI” has been used in the media and other analyses to describe the newer generation of the network, the movement’s current members themselves still use the term “JI”. Comment by a senior Indonesian counter-terrorism officer, ICPVTR workshop, Singapore, July 26, 2022.
 For an analysis of JI’s evolving funding strategy, see Sylvia Laksmi, “Terrorist Financing in Southeast Asia: Transformations, Continuities and Challenges,” in this volume. See also Amy Chew, “Why a Resurgent Jemaah Islamiah in Indonesia is Also Bad News for Malaysia and Singapore,” South China Morning Post, July 7, 2019, https://www.scmp.com/week-asia/society/article/3017465/why-resurgent-jemaah-islamiah-indonesia-also-bad-news-malaysia.
 The key Islamist groups that supported the organisers of the rallies were the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) and the Muslim Community Forum (FUI). See Mohamed Nawab Mohamed Osman, “Insight: Is Hizbut Tahrir a Threat to Indonesia?” The Jakarta Post, June 20, 2019, https://www.thejakartapost.com/academia/2019/06/20/is-hizbut-tahrir-a-threat-to-indonesia.html.
 Arianti, “Jemaah Islamiyah After the 2002 Bali Bombings.” Ahok had been accused of blasphemy against Islam and was later jailed for two years. JI members also participated in the 2016 anti-Ahok rallies. See Ng Jun Sen, “The Big Read: Jemaah Islamiyah Emerges From the Shadows, Playing the Long Game,” Channel News Asia, December 13, 2021, https://www.channelnewsasia.com/singapore/jemaah-islamiyah-terrorist-group-indonesia-isd-20th-anniversary-al-qaeda-2373556.
 Ronna Nirmala, “Analysts: Jemaah Islamiyah a Dormant Threat in Indonesia,” Benar News, November 17, 2020, https://www.benarnews.org/english/news/indonesian/id-terrorism-jemaah-11172020141440.html.
 “Bukan Partai Masyumi, BPU-PPII Deklarasikan PDRI,” Suara Islam, May 31, 2021,
 Kumar Ramakrishna, “JI Adopting Communist ‘United Front’ Tactics,” The Straits Times, December 23, 2021, https://www.straitstimes.com/opinion/ji-adopting-communist-united-front-tactics.
 Nivell Rayda, “Jemaah Islamiyah Infiltrating Indonesian Religious, Civic Institutions: Senior Counterterror Official,” Channel News Asia, November 23, 2021, https://www.channelnewsasia.com/asia/jemaah-islamiyah-infiltrating-indonesian-institutions-terror-group-2332941.
 Arianti, “Jemaah Islamiyah After the 2002 Bali Bombings.” For an analysis of HTI’s penetration of Indonesian society prior to its May 2017 ban, see Alexander Raymond Arifianto, “Banning Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia: Freedom or Security?” RSIS Commentary No. 99 (2017), https://www.rsis.edu.sg/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/CO17099.pdf.
 Arianti, “Jemaah Islamiyah After the 2002 Bali Bombings.”
 One former senior JI leader has pointed out that not everyone in JI agreed with the decision by Hambali, JI’s Mantiqi I leader (covering Singapore and Malaysia) and liaison with Al-Qaeda, to execute Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden’s February 1998 fatwa (edict) to carry out attacks against Western interests anywhere in the world. Hence, the Bali attacks of 12 October 2002 were in effect executed by the most Al-Qaeda and global jihad-oriented faction of JI. ICPVTR Roundtable with former senior JI leader, August 15, 2022.
 Ng, “Jemaah Islamiyah Emerges from the Shadows, Playing the Long Game.” See also V. Arianti and Ulta Levenia, “Jemaah Islamiyah on the Verge of Splintering?” Indonesia at Melbourne, November 2, 2020, https://indonesiaatmelbourne.unimelb.edu.au/jemaah-islamiyah-on-the-brink-of-splintering/.
 Ng, “Jemaah Islamiyah Emerges from the Shadows.”
 Ministry of Home Affairs Singapore, The Jemaah Islamiyah Arrests, p. 7.
 Kumar Ramakrishna, “US Strategy in Southeast Asia: Counter-Terrorist or Counter-Terrorism?” in After Bali: The Threat of Terrorism in Southeast Asia, ed. by Kumar Ramakrishna and See Seng Tan (Singapore: World Scientific/Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies, 2003), p. 312.
 Aqil Haziq Mahmud, “In Focus: The Inside Story of How ISD Crippled a Terrorist Network Targeting Singapore After 9/11,” Channel News Asia, December 4, 2021, https://www.channelnewsasia.com/singapore/isd-terrorist-ji-9-11-mas-selamat-2355686.
 Comment by a senior Indonesian counter-terrorism officer, ICPVTR workshop, Singapore, July 26, 2022.
 Ng, “Jemaah Islamiyah Emerges from the Shadows.”
 Rayda, “Jemaah Islamiyah Infiltrating Indonesian Religious, Civic Institutions.”
 Ahmad Syarif Syechbubakr, “Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah Struggle With Internal Divisions in the Post-Soeharto Era”, Indonesia at Melbourne, May 28, 2018, https://indonesiaatmelbourne.unimelb.edu.au/nahdlatul-ulama-and-muhammadiyah-struggle-with-internal-divisions-in-the-post-soeharto-era/.
 It must be pointed out that senior NU leaders have taken Abdul Somad to task for his extremist comments. See Kumar Ramakrishna, “Commentary: Why Singapore Needs to Keep Out Indonesian Preacher Abdul Somad’s Extremism,” TODAY, May 26, 2022, https://www.todayonline.com/commentary/why-singapore-needs-keep-out-indonesian-preacher-abdul-somads-extremism-1908671.
 Ng, “Jemaah Islamiyah Emerges from the Shadows.”
 Southeast Asian Islamism scholar Joseph Liow, for instance, has quite reasonably argued that “the greater, long-term threat comes from a rejuvenated Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), which has a larger network and is better funded than the pro-ISIS groups in the region”. See ISIS in the Pacific: Assessing Terrorism in Southeast Asia and the Threat to the Homeland, Testimony before the Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence, 114th Congress (April 27, 2016) (statement of Joseph Chinyong Liow, Senior Fellow, Center for East Asia Policy Studies, The Brookings Institution), https://www.brookings.edu/testimonies/isis-in-the-pacific-assessing-terrorism-in-southeast-asia-and-the-threat-to-the-homeland/.