Tracking down and rolling up Noordin’s network — and the man himself given that DNA tests are expected to come back negative (after the raid in which he was believed killed) — is the job of Detachment 88, the National Police counter-terrorism unit. But analysts say the central government must take a long-term view of the country’s terrorism problem and begin tackling it at its source.
Terrorism’s roots, they say, lie within the country’s Islamic boarding schools. According to Sidney Jones of the International Crisis Group, about 50 pesantrens are believed linked to Jemaah Islamiyah, the regional terrorist network of which Noordin was once a key member.
“The schools are still important, less for what they teach than for the connections made there,” said Jones, a JI expert. “It’s not so much ‘massive’ recruiting that’s the problem, but more that I would place the santri [orthodox Muslims] at these schools near the top of vulnerable populations for recruitment. And it only takes a visit by one extremist to bring a couple more on board.”
Indonesia has as many as 45,000 Islamic boarding schools, Jones said, but only about 15,000 are registered with the Ministry of Religious Affairs. Analysts have criticized the ministry for not overseeing the schools’ curriculums, which could be blinds for private study sessions for handpicked students with extremist teachers.
Some 17 people involved in Indonesia’s spate of terror attacks graduated from the al-Mukmin Islamic school in Ngruki, Sukoharjo, according to the Brussels-based International Crisis Group. Most of the radical books including one written by a terrorist executed for his role in the 2002 Bali bombings are sold near the school.
“Impassioned youngsters who want to die as martyrs seek out Noordin” because they think he’s “cool” and “like a rock idol,” said Noor Huda Ismail, an analyst with the Jakarta- based Institute for International Peacebuilding, and a graduate of al-Mukmin.
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