Jihadist Disengagement from Violence: Understanding Contributing Factors

By Julie Chernov Hwang


Members of Indonesian jihadist groups are disengaging from violence. Understanding the factors that facilitate disengagement can enable governments and NGOs working in the field of terrorist rehabilitation to tailor programmes accordingly.


MEMBERS OF Indonesian jihadist groups have been disengaging from violence in various regions of the archipelago. Among them are Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), Mujahidin KOMPAK in Java, and Tanah Runtuh in Poso. They provide interesting case studies of why the terrorist groups disengage.

Jihadists disengaging from violence offer different motivations for their changed positions. Four significant factors help to facilitate disengagement. A terrorist disengages when he decides to cease participation in acts of violence. A handful may actually leave the group. More go inactive or shift from a violent to a non-violent role within the group. Disengagement is a gradual process, occurring over months and even years. The entire process combines rational, emotional, relational, and psychological factors.

Understanding Disengagement: The Factors

The four factors that drive the disengagement process forward tend to work together. The first factor is disillusionment with the targets and timing of attacks, with leaders, and even remorse for one’s own role. This was often the start of the reflective process that proceeded disengagement. It was rarely a decisive factor, however, because loyalty to one’s seniors often trumped feelings of unease and disappointment.

The second factor – cost benefit analysis – played a key role in disengagement, often in an interactive relationship with disillusionment. This tended to be operationalised in two ways: change of context and actions viewed as counter-productive. Tanah Runtuh members who disengaged cited changing context as proximate to their decision. Since Poso was peaceful and had been so for over a decade, there was no longer a need for violence.

JI and Mujahidin KOMPAK members tended to utilise cost-benefit logic with several lines of reasoning. First, most interviewees pointed to general public revulsion with the bombings and expressed the general sentiment that ongoing bombings would be “counterproductive” to the interests of JI and Muslims in general. Alongside this view, it was often mentioned that bombings against civilian targets was a violation of the Quran’s rules governing the conduct of war. Thus, there were religious “costs” involved with taking such a step.

Alternative Social Networks

The third and perhaps the most important factor in facilitating successful disengagement was the establishment of an alternative social network of friends, family members, business associates and mentors. New relationships and friendships can offer new narratives for perceiving the enemy, highlight instances where the rhetoric of seniors was at odds with their actions, challenge prior-held views, and refocus priorities from jihad and/or revenge killing toward family.

Pressure from parents or a spouse can be a key supporting factor facilitating the disengagement. This was especially true among the Tanah Runtuh jihadists in Poso. However, the converse was also true. In those cases where parents professed support for terrorism, individuals remained hard line and unrepentant.

Finally, shifts in priorities from jihad and clandestine activities toward marriage, family, and gainful employment also facilitated disengagement. Priority shifts followed. In the cases of Tanah Runtuh members who had been released from prison, the need to earn a living, to “cari makanan” for one’s family, led to prioritising finding and keeping a job over their prior jihad activities. Likewise, among members of JI, Mujahidin KOMPAK, and the Subur cell, the most successful instances of disengagement and reintegration were those young men who had the opportunity to go for either further education or professional development training and had become teachers or businessmen in their own right.

Implications for Policy

It is important to note that these factors also hold if we look at a broader range of cases outside Indonesia.  Studies such as those by Peter Neumann on defections from Islamic State show that ISIS defectors have cited disillusionment with ISIS’ brutality, corruption, sectarianism, and unIslamic behaviour as well as the general lack of a quality of life as key to their decision to return home.

Members of Scandinavian skinhead gangs cited a desire to get married and start a family as well as a general sense of burnout and disillusionment as key to their decision to disengage. ETA members raised issues of changing context and a desire to become fathers. Finally, IRA members cited disillusionment with tactics as well as the role of a supportive family network in facilitating disengagement.

These generalisations are instructive in the development of disengagement programmes both by governments and by civil society organisations. Indonesia would benefit from well-targeted, well-resourced disengagement programmes, built on a foundation of knowledge about the Indonesian jihadist community. This has historically been lacking.

Early Densus 88 programmes championed first by Brigadier General Suryadharma and then by General Tito Karnavian drew on substantial knowledge of the target population but were ad hoc and poorly funded. Later BNPT programmes were well funded but were built without sufficient understanding of the jihadist community. With Tito Karnavian taking the reins at BNPT, this provides an opportunity for equal emphasis of these goals. To date, BNPT and Densus programmes have not focused on life skills training and professional development.

However, this is the area where they could have the most sustainable impact. By focusing on the priority shift element, they could move disengagement forward at a very tenuous time. If someone cannot find a way to earn a living outside the jihadi network, they may very well return to it. Likewise, providing space for those conversations around disillusionment and cost-benefit to take place, especially within prisons, can also embolden those who are “thinking” disengagement to “do” disengagement and ultimately reintegration post-release.

Julie Chernov Hwang is an Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Political Science and International Relations at Goucher College in Baltimore, Maryland, USA. Her forthcoming book, “Reconsidering Violence: The Disengagement of Indonesian Jihadists” is under review at Cornell University Press. She contributed this article to RSIS Commentary.

Click HERE to read this commentary online.


The Malacca Strait Patrols: Finding Common Ground

By Koh Swee Lean Collin


A decade has passed since the Malacca Strait Patrols were launched as a holistic initiative in April 2006 following the initial MALSINDO trilateral coordinated patrols in July 2004. Some useful lessons can be drawn as Southeast Asian littoral states conceive of possible ways forward in promoting regional cooperation in maritime security.


THE MALACCA Strait has always been crucial to the international community. Ensuring its security is not without challenges when littoral states straddling this waterway have differing views of foreign involvement. While Singapore felt that all users ought to contribute to the strait security, Indonesia and Malaysia viewed it as the littoral states’ sole responsibility.

However, such differences were not prominent in the 1990s since bilateral frameworks, such as the Indonesia-Singapore Coordinated Patrols, sufficed to tackle the prevailing piracy and sea robbery threats then – until the upsurge of attacks in the early-2000s. Following that the shipping industry called for “internationalising” Malacca Strait security under United Nations mandate. Direct external intervention appeared imminent after Washington proposed the Regional Maritime Security Initiative (RMSI), which envisaged US policing of the strait in 2004.

The Bigger Picture

Kuala Lumpur later became wary of the media highlighting of intra-regional differences, which it feared would beset interstate ties. Instead, Malaysian Foreign Minister Syed Hamid Albar called for thinking of “a bigger picture” as littoral states strive to collectively secure the strait.

It was around the same time that Indonesian Navy Chief Admiral Bernard Kent Sondakh proposed a trilateral framework building on existing forms of bilateral cooperation. Remarking on good cooperation Indonesia had with Malaysia and Singapore, he said if the task force was established, “automatically security in the Malacca Strait will be strengthened.” Both Malaysia and Singapore backed this initiative.

In late June 2004, the three countries agreed to establish MALSINDO, the initial plan being joint patrols but was watered down to a less ambitious, coordinated patrol format taking into account mutual respect for national sovereignty. In July 2004, MALSINDO was inaugurated.

Initial Setbacks

But the following months did not augur well for MALSINDO. Following an attack on Japanese-owned tugboat Idaten in March 2005, Tokyo proposed to dispatch the Japan Coast Guard to help police the strait – which Kuala Lumpur rejected.

More ominously, those intra-regional differences threatened to rear their heads again when Singapore opined that all stakeholders should contribute to Malacca Strait security.

Fortuitously, during the Shangri-La Dialogue in 2005, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore reached a consensus that littoral states bear primary responsibility in securing the strait, and that user states and the international community have a significant role on the basis of respect for national sovereignty and adherence to international law. Notably, on that occasion Malaysian Defence Minister Najib Tun Razak also proposed an aerial patrol component dubbed “Eyes-in-the-Sky” (EiS) to complement MALSINDO.

However, shortly after a Thai product tanker was attacked in the Malacca Strait, leading various shipping industry representatives to view MALSINDO as ineffective. Arguably the biggest setback for MALSINDO came when Lloyd’s Joint War Risks Committee classified the strait as a “high-risk war zone” on 1 July 2005.

Finding Common Ground

Galvanised by Lloyd’s decision, within a month the three countries met in Batam and released a joint statement pledging stronger commitment towards Malacca Strait security. This discussion, described as a “landmark meeting” by Singapore’s then Foreign Minister George Yeo, was significant in welcoming “assistance of the user states, relevant international agencies and the shipping community” to ensure strait security.

Key to this international involvement was the formation of a new Tripartite Technical Experts Group on Maritime Security. Moreover, the need to engage states bordering the “funnels” leading into both straits, including countries such as Thailand and India, was highlighted. Coinciding with this “landmark meeting” was the formal announcement creating EiS – demonstrating the littoral states’ seriousness about securing the Malacca Strait, as Indonesian military authorities pointed out.

Further action was mooted at the Jakarta Meeting on the Straits of Malacca and Singapore: Enhancing Safety, Security and Environmental Protection in early September 2005, when Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand pledged to enhance strait security. Notably, Jakarta proposed Malacca Straits Security Initiative (MSSI) – a comprehensive approach comprising coordinated patrols and intelligence-sharing.

Notwithstanding the Batam “landmark meeting” and Jakarta Meeting, however, intra-regional differences continued to linger. For example, while Malaysia was supportive of Australia’s participation in EiS, Indonesia preferred “training assistance or capacity building” to direct foreign involvement in patrols. But clearly, the littoral states intended for no repeat of what happened prior to June 2004.

Vindicating MALSINDO

Building on Indonesia’s MSSI proposal in late 2005, the Terms of Reference and Standard Operating Procedures were inked by the Malacca Strait littoral states’ military chiefs in April 2006.

The Malacca Strait Patrols (MSP) was thus formalised, comprising the Malacca Strait Sea Patrol (formerly MALSINDO), EiS and the Intelligence Exchange Group. A Joint Coordinating Committee was also constituted with overseeing the patrols and facilitating communication, intelligence exchange and coordination.

Lloyd’s delisting of the strait from the “high risk war zone” category in August the same year vindicated the feasibility of a regional approach in collectively addressing a common security problem while setting aside intra-regional differences. In 2008, then IMO Secretary-General Efthimios Mitropoulos held up MSP as a model to emulate in addressing the Gulf of Aden piracy problems. This accolade was also echoed by the US Pacific Command in 2012.

Imperfect but Feasible Model

Recent ship hijacking and sea robbery cases, despite their high-profile media reporting, still showed that MSP cultivated the habit of multinational maritime security cooperation in Southeast Asia. This was evidenced by the littoral governments’ prompt response to some of those incidents. For instance, the navies and maritime enforcement agencies of Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore coordinated a swift response to the boarding of tug boat Permata 1 in September 2015.

Since then, MT Joaquim in the Malacca Strait and MV Merlin in the Philips Channel in August and October 2015 respectively were the last of high-profile ship hijacking and sea robbery cases in regional waters. The number of reported incidents has declined from 18 in September last year to zero successful incidents so far this year. Certainly, MSP still has inherent limitations to overcome. But which multinational security initiative can be deemed perfect?

After all, it is always contingent on any existing framework to evolve with the changing nature of security challenges. Southeast Asia by and large can draw useful lessons from such unique model as MSP to collectively address the evolving regional maritime security challenges.

Koh Swee Lean Collin is an Associate Research Fellow of the Maritime Security Programme, at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.

Click HERE to read this commentary online.


The Curious Case of Wang Yuandongyi: Why Do Some Want to Fight With Anti-ISIS Groups?

By Shashi Jayakumar


The arrest in March 2016 of a Singapore citizen, Wang Yuandongyi, for attempting to travel to Syria to fight with a Kurdish militia against ISIS raises questions about the psychological processes of individuals attempting to join anti-ISIS groups.Should these individuals be treated in the same manner as those attempting to fight for ISIS?


THE ARREST of a Singapore citizen, Wang Yuandongyi, in March 2016 for attempting to travel to Syria to fight with a Kurdish militia against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has focussed attention on the phenomenon of individuals attracted to the cause of fighting ISIS – not for it. Analysis by CENS, the Centre of Excellence for National Security at RSIS, of the background, motivations and nationalities of over 200 “lone wolves” who have made the journey to fight ISIS, suggests that about half fight with the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) the major Kurdish opposition to ISIS in northern Syria.

A smaller number of the 400-500 actually on the ground fight with the Peshmerga of the Kurdish Regional Government in Iraq, and an even smaller number have joined Assyrian Christian militia in Syria. At least 12 of the foreign anti-ISIS “lone-wolves” with these groups have been killed. Americans, especially military veterans, make up approximately 50 per cent of the total number of anti-ISIS fighters. Apart from a small number of fighters (particularly from Europe) who are second-generation members of the Kurdish diaspora, very few have a direct connection with the conflict.

Different strokes for different folks

A recurring theme with these fighters as gleaned from their social media posts is giving meaningful help to peoples who are oppressed, and not wanting to sit by while people suffer under the ISIS yoke. A significant proportion of anti-ISIS fighters combine these pull factors with “push” factors.

They include unsettled domestic circumstances, or a sense of “drift” or dislocation from the orthodox dictates of society. Should there be commonality in treatment of would-be fighters and returning fighters on both sides – for and against ISIS?

Some countries such as the United States strongly discourage their citizens from fighting against ISIS, but have not criminalised such actions, choosing in effect to turn a blind eye. In Australia, there is specific legislation introduced in 2014 that criminalises fighting on any side of the conflict in Syria and Iraq.

In the West, where these issues have more public traction, supporters and family members of anti-ISIS fighters (in countries ranging from the UK to Australia) have initiated petitions calling on their governments to reconsider their treatment of those who have returned home after fighting ISIS, observing that there is no moral equivalence between fighting for and against IS, and that the two should be considered quite separately.

The Curious Case of Wang Yuandongyi

In Singapore, the Government has made it clear in connection with Wang Yuandongyi that it takes a stern view of anyone who undertakes or makes preparations to undertake armed violence, regardless of how they rationalise violence or where the violence in question takes place. But should the authorities go further and make this legally explicit, banning any Singaporean (or even foreigners based here) from fighting abroad in any armed conflict, regardless of which side he or she supports?

There may be long term advantages to this approach. In some cases, issues of right and wrong might be clear – at least in the minds of some would-be fighters. But many other situations like insurgency, civil war, rebellion may be less clear-cut.

The authorities would also presumably not want a situation where Singaporeans find themselves face to face against each other in a foreign battleground. This scenario (which is one the US and several European nations are already confronting in Syria and Iraq) could lead to blowback and tensions between groups within Singapore.

Authorities should also consider what to do with individuals on the verge of going to help the Kurds in auxiliary or humanitarian roles that do not involve fighting, but which might conceivably draw such individuals into violence downstream – should this be criminalised too? There are some provisions in the law (the Internal Security Act) which are relevant to the possibilities above, but these may need updating.

Motivations and “Rehabilitation”

Anti-ISIS lone wolves have different motivations for taking up their cause. Some cite an altruistic need to help the Kurds, but it is also clear that some seek the same form of adventure that impelled ISIS fighters. And similar to ISIS foreign fighters, many seek a sense of meaning, perhaps alienated from their home culture and suffering from rootlessness, anomie, or mental dislocation. Studying these individuals might yield insights into those who join ISIS, as there may be common ground in their motivations.

There is also the tricky issue of “rehabilitation”. In Singapore, the authorities recognise that Wang’s attempt to help the Kurds was not “ideologically-driven”, yet have suggested that he will undergo psychological counselling to steer him away from resorting to violence. It is not, however, clear that Wang was in the first place predisposed to violent acts. Would established processes such as counselling by the Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG) or by others work in these cases? Should new ways be considered?

The media has reported the conflict with ISIS as an existential one – almost as a Manichean struggle between good and evil. This inevitably has had an impact on a millennial generation in search of experience and meaning.What might therefore be needed in various countries is not only official injunction or punitive warnings against fighting with the YPG or other militia, but a broader effort.

In countries where there is a rising commitment to social or civic activism, other outlets for expressing such activism need to be found: outlets that could divert restless individuals and allow them to find expression for their altruistic energies.

Trusted and credible sources – not necessarily simply government sources – should be used to disseminate the messages that individuals should not get involved in foreign conflicts (not just the ones in Iraq and Syria), and that one runs the very real risk of being killed, or else being drawn into wider conflicts which they have not signed up for. The overall message should be this: there are other ways to help the people at risk, and these conflicts are not their fight.

Shashi Jayakumar is Senior Fellow and Head, Centre of Excellence for National Security, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. This appeared earlier in The Straits Times.

Source: http://www.rsis.edu.sg/rsis-publication/cens/co16074-the-curious-case-of-wang-yuandongyi-why-do-some-want-to-fight-with-anti-isis-groups/#.VwymTnqT6Ig


Robots for Japan’s Defence: The Key Issues

By Kalyan M Kemburi


With evolving security requirements and changing socio-economic imperatives, Tokyo might increasingly opt for robots and unmanned systems for defence systems. However the Japan Self Defence Forces may have to grapple with key organisational and operational issues if they decide to robotise warfighting capabilities.


THE JAPANESE government aims to create a robotic revolution by 2020 to overcome many of the societal and economic challenges such as falling birth rates, ageing population, and declining productivity. As the global leader in industrial robots, achieving Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s dream of a “robotic revolution”—though hindered by societal lethargy and institutional inertia—is within the technological and financial ambit of Japan.

Robots in the defence arena have a different (or no) story. Despite the technological prowess in robotics, Japan has been ambivalent in deploying robots for military purpose. Popular perceptions tend to point towards the pacifist constitution as the main hurdle; however other subtle factors might be influencing the discourse and decisions. Japanese affection for robots and robotic prowess that overemphasises creating advanced prototypes than producing relatively simpler but practical systems, might have stymied the widespread deployment of military-relevant robots. Notwithstanding, evolving security requirements along with changing socio-economic imperatives are bound to change this situation.

Robots And Changing Strategic Landscape?

Living in a turbulent neighbourhood with changing military balance, Tokyo would be hardpressed to rely only on traditional military systems. For example, there is a growing missile and fighter jet gap between Japan and its two main antagonists—China and North Korea. China has over 1600 fighter jets compared to less than 400 with Japan. Although 3/4th of the 1600 belong to 2nd and 3rd generation and are not a match to Japan’s advanced fighters including the F-35s—quantity often has a history of overwhelming quality in combat.

Consequently, Japan also needs to deploy capabilities that cater to the growing demand for increased policing roles, while simultaneously avoid creating insecurities among its neighbours. Robotic systems have the potential to help Japan bridge the ‘gap’ in a non-threatening manner while taking up policing roles without exacerbating insecurities in the neighbourhood. 

Apart from the security drivers, three socio-economic factors increasingly make robots/ unmanned systems an attractive proposition for the Japan Self-Defence Force (JSDF): declining working age population (by 2025, 40% would be 65 and above); limited defence budget (less than 1% of the GDP); and exorbitantly priced military platforms (for example, in 2015 approximately US$1.2 billion was spent for six F-35).

In this context, it is pertinent to understand the organisational and operational issues that the planners with JSDF might have to grapple with if they decide to robotise warfighting capabilities for a robotic future in defence:

Organisational and Operational Issues

First, Japan has to decide whether to use these unmanned platforms exclusively for surveillance and reconnaissance missions or include combat missions as well as logistics tasks such as air-to-air refueling and casualty evacuation. Moreover, operationally and financially it is prudent to recruit and train specialists to operate these systems, rather than use highly trained-experienced officers—as done by the US Air Force, whose services are more critical for strategic missions.

Second, compared to the last century—where many of the advanced technologies had their genesis in military R&D—globally the last two decades have witnessed a new trend where civilian R&D has become an important source of advanced technology, such as unmanned/ autonomous systems. Increasingly defence agencies need to buy off-the-shelf commercial products and tweak them for military use. While developing new robotic systems Japan has to note these trends and where necessary adopt technologies from the civilian sector rather than being drawn to reinventing the wheel. 

Third, given limited experience of JSDF in using unmanned/ robotic systems for military missions, prudence dictates enhancing cooperation with international partners. With the procurement of three Global Hawks unmanned surveillance aircrafts along with the existing strong military partnership, invariably Japan draws its initial doctrinal inspiration and operational ideas in using unmanned systems from the US experience.

Other countries such as Australia and Singapore with vast experience in operating unmanned systems also offer important avenues for learning and partnership. For example, the Republic of Singapore Navy has integrated Scan Eagle drones on its six Victory-class missile corvettes to provide organic ISR capabilities, which JSDF can consider partnering for training and joint exercises.

Fourth, the true potential of unmanned systems could be realised only with their teaming with manned systems. The US Army already has in place manned-unmanned teaming: Kiowa Warrior helicopters with Shadow unmanned aircraft systems and Apache attack helicopters with Gray Eagle.

Other than the dull, dirty, and dangerous tasks, manned-unmanned teaming has the potential to create new possibilities in high-intensity missions. For example, drones are ideal platforms for scouting and targeting, whereas Apaches are excellent at providing superior firepower at short ranges. This manned-unmanned teaming is useful in delegating the “dull”—possibly dangerous—task of scouting and targeting to Gray Eagle, whereas Apaches can focus all their time on flight for destroying targets, possibly even from a safe standoff distance.

Drones and East Asian Skies

Fifth, with East Asian skies increasingly getting crowded with drones, Japan has to consider the pertinent operational and normative issues. For example, in September 2013, a Chinese military drone flew towards the Japanese-controlled Senkaku islands and JSDF responded by scrambling F-15 fighter jets. Since scrambling a jet for a drone is not proportional either operationally or logistically, procurement of unmanned systems potentially provides feasible options for the JSDF. With increased deployment of drones, China, Japan and South Korea should consider discussing standard operating procedures to deal with incidents involving the drones—a crucial step in preventing crisis escalation.

Ultimately, the Japanese Government will have to exercise political will to overcome the organizational and operational issues to deploy robotic capabilities for the JSDF in a technologically and strategically changed milieu.

Kalyan M Kemburi is an Associate Research Fellow with the Military Transformations Programme at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. This is the second of a two-part series, which discusses robotics in the defence and economic arenas.

Source: http://www.rsis.edu.sg/rsis-publication/rsis/co16065-robots-for-japans-defence-the-key-issues/#.VvylhnqT6Ig


The West Sumatra Earthquakes: Not Learning Our Lessons?

By Jonatan A. Lassa


A big earthquake hit the ocean floor off Southwestern Sumatra, Indonesia on 2 March 2016. Tsunami warnings were issued by the government to the whole Sumatran regions. How effective are Indonesia’s tsunami warning systems today?


TSUNAMI WARNINGS issued by the Indonesian authority soon after the 7.8 scale earthquakes that struck off West Sumatra on 2 March 2016 were cancelled a few hours after the activation of the warnings all over Sumatra by the Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics Agency (BMKG). 

Though the earthquakes were powerful enough to be felt in some parts of Singapore, they were determined to be less tsunamigenic than thought as they occurred at about 650 km off the Sumatran fault line. Still there were noticeable gaps in the Indonesian Tsunamis Warning Systems.

Noticeable Gaps

In Mentawai Island, the closest populated region situated about 650km from the epicentre, tsunami sirens were activated. In most of West Sumatra province, local communities reportedly moved to evacuation shelters and higher ground as well as tall level buildings. Traffic jams resulted when people rushed towards higher places. Probably no authority in the world could eliminate all the complexities of large scale evacuations from tsunamis and other natural hazards.

In West Aceh, some tsunami sirens failed to transmit warnings. Still, at least some local communities were able to evacuate in time. Word of mouth, social media and car alarms from local officials regarding the changing behaviour of the seawater created a rather ‘necessary panic’ that pushed the people to evacuate.

However when trying to calm their local communities, the local authorities tried to physically go to the coast to monitor the behaviour of sea water even after being in close contact with national authorities about the status of the tsunami warning. The behaviour is risky and could not be justified. This exemplifies the serious gaps in the system at local level.

National and international media have consistently reported the gaps of the Indonesian Tsunamis Warning Systems (InaTEWS). BMKG and BNPB have been open about the gaps in the warning systems. Two notable gaps were: Firstly, all the buoys did not work. Secondly, a few sirens in West Sumatra province and West Aceh failed to transmit any warning.

Reuters quoted the BNPB spokesman Sutopo Purwo Nugroh as saying all 22 of the early-warning buoys Indonesia deployed after the 2004 tsunami disaster were inoperable when a massive undersea earthquake struck off the coast”.

Yet Indonesia had been acknowledged by the United Nations as a disaster risk reduction champion in 2013 during the presidency of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono or SBY. The BNPB spokesman was frank when he commented: “We can easily forget. After the quake in Aceh we wanted to do everything, but by 2015 we don’t have money allocated (to fix the buoys).”

Lack of Maintenance Culture

International and bilateral donors have been supporting the development of InaTEWS soon after the Indian Ocean Tsunamis in 2004, in which some 170,000 were killed in Sumatra. Since its earliest development, local and national authorities and their donors placed too much emphasis on the technology and often failed to adequately focus on people.

However, to be fair, there have also been some positive changes especially at both government and community levels. Despite the substantial gaps still remaining in the warning system, there have been some progress worthy to be sustained and improved upon.

Where local communities could not feel the tremors of the earthquakes, they have to rely on the government to forewarn them about distant tsunamis. Therefore, buoys become critical indicators for the authorities to understand changing behaviour of the ocean heights to suggest potential tsunamis along the coasts.

However, they cannot expect too much from the buoys. Two reasons were given by the BNPB spokesperson: Firstly, most of the buoys do not function and have broken down because they have been vandalised. Secondly, Indonesia did not allocate funds for maintenance of the bouys which must be done every six months. Furthermore, Indonesian politicians often fail to regularly invest in disaster reduction.

Sutopo added that Indonesia needed 1000 additional warning sirens. This lack of basic facilities can be justified. However, what is often overlooked is the need to build a strong maintenance culture. Previous experiences have suggested that many tsunami sirens were not functioning due to the lack of regular maintenance by local disaster management authorities.

Going Forward

Overall the good news is that apart from the identified gaps, the impression about tsunami preparedness is more positive at the local community level. One reason: the West Sumatra regions are generally more prepared. Both local governments and civil society are more actively involved in building awareness. Actually even without buoys, the government and the international TEWS can provide quick predictions and issue tsunami warnings.

But amid this lack of robustness in the system, alternative and complementary routes can be created to build effective tsunami preparedness. An effective TEWS should allow failure in one component without paralysing the whole system to operate. There has been a growing sophistication in tsunami modelling technology over the last ten years. Such improvement in tsunami-modelling processes often provide quicker results, especially when combined with community level preparedness, adequate capitalisation of social media and committed local disaster management authorities.

However, again, the devil is in the details. Further studies needs to be done to learn from this event: For instance, who were the people who did not evacuate at all, and why? What happened to their assets during the evacuation? Did both local authorities manage to guard the assets of the evacuees? What are the key variables that pushed people to evacuate? 

All these events have unfortunately passed without adequate lessons being learned by scientific communities and the relevant authorities.

Jonatan A. Lassa is a Research Fellow at Centre for Non-Traditional Security Studies (NTS) at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.

Source: http://www.rsis.edu.sg/rsis-publication/nts/co16066-the-west-sumatra-earthquakes-not-learning-our-lessons/#.VvyliHqT6Ig



Cyber Ribat in Malaysia: Countering IS’ New Online Guards

By Muhammad Haziq Bin Jani


Online support for ISIL in Malaysia measures in the thousands of pro-Islamic State (IS) Facebook accounts. Authorities will have to look at cyber ribat – the cyber guarding of military frontiers – seriously and decide on counter-narratives to stem the growing tide of this new pedigree of on-line jihadist radicalisation.


ONLINE EXTREMISM in Malaysia is a matter of national and regional security. In May 2015, the Malaysian Home Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi reported that 75% of supporters of ISIS – variously known as ISIL, Islamic State (IS) and Daesh – were recruited online. As of January 2016, the Malaysian police have arrested 153 people for suspected links to the ISIL, successfully thwarting possible attacks. However, Malaysian ISIL fighters and supporters continue to thrive on social media platforms such as Facebook.

While Malaysia has legal recourses to combat real-world terrorism, such as the Security Offences (Special Measures) (Amendment) Bill or SOSMA on top of nascent counter-radicalisation and counter-ideological efforts, Kuala Lumpur cannot ignore the thousands among its citizens who believe that they are contributing to ISIL’s cause  through their online ribat. There is an urgent need for these online radicals to be engaged in counter-narratives, for theirs is but a small step away from real-world militancy.

Understanding Ribat: “Cyber-IS”

Malaysian online extremists, including mere Facebook “friends” of jihadis as well as hackers and “tech experts”, believe that they are “Cyber-IS” or that they are conducting ribat online. Social media is their frontier, online content are their cavalry and swords, friendship binds them together; their enemies are those who spread falsehood about the dawlah (ISIL), as well as online Shi’ites, infidels and supporters of the tawaghut (idolaters).

In their very hearts they perceive their online activities as participation in the real world battles on the ground. And in some cases, these activities become realised into actual travel, planning attacks and co-coordinating clandestine cells, which, in Malaysia, has led up to arrests. However, authorities need to look deeper into online ribat and curb radical activities further upstream.

Authorities have to be familiar with ribat in its various military and non-military usages, particularly in dealing with the strategy of Daesh (as ISIL is known in Arabic) on the ground and online. According to the Brill Encyclopaedia of Islam, ribat carries a multitude of meanings. In non-military usage, ribat means a building prepared and put aside for the ritualistic, academic and educational activities of the fuqaha (scholars of jurisprudence) and the Sufis. Ribat in this sense may be linked to jihad but only in the non-violent and symbolic sense, that is, against “the self”.

The associated meanings that come with ribat originates from its military usage as a military-religious institution, originally linked to tribal warfare implying the preparations made when mustering cavalry before battle. Much later, along with the changes in the way the Arabs conducted their wars through the ages, a ribat became associated with fortifications and buildings such as the observation tower. As a verbal noun of the verb rabata, it implies attachment to a place, or a person; just as horses are required to be, having been gathered ready for combat. In the Qur’an (8:60), ribat is the assembling of battle horses for warfare as a show force to deter the enemy.

Through the evolution of its use by Muslim armies in warfare in the past centuries, ribat has been supplied with the notion of the “frontier” that was injected by the period of conquests in Islamic history, and is a concept of observation, standing guard and of preparation for an impending skirmish, deployment, battle or movement, and may or may not involve the necessary religious or military education or indoctrination.

Victories for Malaysian Online Murabitun

Malaysian Online Murabitun – those who undertake cyber ribat – have been complicit in shaping and building online and real-world communities of extremists. These Murabitun are supporters and sympathisers of radicals who could not afford the trip to Syria, were advised not to go or have yet to find the courage to leave Malaysia and their family behind. Their first victory online was to provide the dominant grasp Daesh has over the online jihadi conversation in the Malay-speaking world.

Since 2013, the online Murabitun followed the journey of jihadis such as Lotfi Ariffin, producing and distributing jihadi content, from the daily lives of fighters in Syria to calls for jihad and even materials such as logos, pictures and videos from “IS Central”. They have been consistently defending the presence of their community online by tactically using social media, for instance, by persistently creating new accounts, adding new friends and helping jihadis to verify and resurface accounts that have been shut down.

After the Malaysian fighters left Ajnad Ash-Sham and joined IS, these Murabitun were unhesitant in staying abreast with the change in ideological or doctrinal leaning and loyalty. Admittedly, this swing in online support was long due, with IS dominating other jihadi groups in terms of public online presence. It is worth noting that since then, there has not been any news of new Malaysian fighters joining any other groups in Syria. In Jan 2016, the 11 Malaysians who were arrested for planning attacks and attempting to travel to Syria were wholly linked to ISIL.

End Ribat, Begin Rehabilitation

Regardless of whether they are responsible for a complete Daesh-isation of real world Malaysian jihad, intentionally or unknowingly, they have allowed their audience to enter into the alternative world of ISIL; they know how to dress, speak, think and use social media like an extremist. They have contributed to the building of an ideological repository of Daesh ethics – what they should and should not do or like.

They are complicit in the creation of the extremist information market, and their sense of community. When there is a threat to the community they will alert the others and provide suggested solutions. When a fighter dies, they grieve or celebrate together and when a member is caught they alert others of enemies among themselves. As a result, fighters do indeed gain from audience participation. They can gauge who among the audience are potential friends or recruits.

Online Murabitun with dangerous levels of radicalisation should not be left alone just because they are not an immediate threat. Those who have yet to be dangerously radicalised need to be rescued and guided back into society for their own safety and for the security of Malaysia.


Muhammad Haziq Bin Jani is a Research Analyst in the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research (ICPVTR), at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore.


Source: http://www.rsis.edu.sg/rsis-publication/icpvtr/co16062-cyber-ribat-in-malaysia-countering-is-new-online-guards/#.Vvia23qT6Ig