National Counter Terrorism Chief: “No one born radical – give ex-ISIS children chance”

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Government facilitates children of Indonesian ex-ISIS members return. (photo: IO/Yoga)

IO, Jakarta – Recently, the issue of whether ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) fighters should be allowed to return home to Indonesia has been a hot topic on social media. The majority of users seem to reject the free return of ex-ISIS fighters, in line with the policy once stated by Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan during his time as Coordinating Minister of Politics, Law, and Security (Menko Polhukam). According to Luhut, the government would refuse to recognize the citizenship or any Indonesian citizen who swore allegiance to ISIS and took part in the war. At the time there were also reports that ISIS sympathizers were burning their passports.

According to Law No. 12/2006 concerning Citizenship, while the revocation of an Indonesian’s citizenship is possible, it can ordinarily only be imposed when an Indonesian becomes a citizen of another nation. “Before, there were indeed those who admitted they already had ‘Foreign Terrorist Fighter’ (FTF) status – and thus had their passports revoked. We cannot do that as our laws do not recognize statelessness,” complained Minister of Law and Human Rights Yasona Laoly, last March.

According to intelligence report from the Ministry of Defense, as of the end of 2018, there were 31,500 foreign ISIS fighters in Syria and Iraq. Out of that number, a total of 800 came from Southeast Asia with 700 Indonesians. Investigations by Majalah Tempo (Tempo Magazine) revealed how hundreds of former ISIS fighters and their families from Indonesia were currently stranded in Syria. Kurdish authorities are willing to repatriate them as long as they are assured the Indonesian government will take them back.

In response to the large number of ISIS sympathizers from Indonesia allegedly hoping to return, National Counter Terrorism Agency (BNPT) Head Suhardi Alius stated that there was nothing wrong in giving a second chance to ISIS sympathizers’ children who wanted to come home to Indonesia. “Give them a second chance. They are innocent,” said Suhardi in a discussion titled “ISIS Dream Chasers: Are They Worthy of Returning?” held by Tempo Group on Tuesday (09/07/2019).

Suhardi stated that the fear was that if they were left behind, they would become vengeful when they grow up, feeling that they had not been fairly treated by the public. “We must look at this clearly. Must we sacrifice those children? Are they guilty? Give them a second chance; they are innocent,” said Suhardi.

Suhardi gave the example of Imam Samudra, whose son died in Syria. “Remember how Imam Samudra’s child during the Bali bombing was just nine years old. Now he is dead in Syria,” said Suhardi.

To facilitate ex-ISIS sympathizers’ children return to Indonesia, Suhardi suggested a special task force comprised of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, National Police, Indonesia Intelligence Agency, and Coordinating Ministry of Politics, Law, and Security led by the BNPT. However, it won’t just be about bringing them home. Suhardi stated that not all of them could be brought home. The task force would conduct direct surveillance in Syria. Suhardi specified that his team would ask for permission from the government to access former ISIS sympathizers. The assessment would be done in Syria and not Indonesia. Evaluation would be needed to classify the degree of radicalization of each individual. “It is ongoing. Our representatives are in Damascus to monitor the situation,” said Suhardi.

Suhardi asserted that no one could guarantee the ex-ISIS sympathizers would not do anything radical in Indonesia. However, by creating a correct system and formula using a humanitarian approach to handle the children of ex-ISIS members who have repented, it is hoped that such children can be guided to a correct path. “Don’t base everything on violence because new vengefulness and violence will appear. Now we will use a system, no longer per person. We will break that chain. We will make a system that in one aspect will have endurance, in another, where they have been exposed, we will use humanity,” he explained.

In agreement with Suhardi was terrorism expert and founder of the Peace Inscription Foundation (Yayasan Prasasti Perdamaian) Noor Huda Ismail, who wants the government to use soft power in eradicating terrorism in Indonesia. The soft power meant by Noor is using former terrorists as agents in inviting current terrorists and other radicals to repent.

The suggestion comes from Noor’s experience in an Islamic school in Ngruki for six years. Noor had even joined Jemaah Islamiyyah, giving him an understanding of the thought patterns of radicals and terrorists. He also studied terrorism from the perspective of gender. According to Noor, violence tends to appear from the aspect of masculinity and can be decreased using an approach to emotions. “In handling terrorism, I use a unique approach; masculinity. There is a story of a Jamaah Islamiyyah officer who was interrogated, but he would not talk. After the Densus (Indonesian Special Forces counter-terrorism squad) asked him just one question: How long had he not met his mother, he answered seven years. The police then brought in his mother, and he immediately broke down in tears; as he cried, he wrote down everything,” said Noor Huda.

According to Noor, no one is born radicalized. Noor classifies people into two groups: those before they commit a terrorist act and afterwards. “And this process should include that identity is fluid and can change, in line with certain conditions, because we cannot generalize about someone. Theoretically, I could have become a terrorist because of Ngruki, but the process was different, and on average people who become terrorists eventually want to withdraw from such a life,” Noor stated. (Dan)