JAKARTA, INDONESIA—Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s call for strengthening the country’s national security law could still face resistance in parliament, even after Islamic State-linked militants last week carried out the first serious terrorist attack in Jakarta since 2009.
On Tuesday Widodo voiced support for amending the country’s 2003 anti-terrorism law to prohibit citizens from joining terrorist groups operating in conflict-ridden Iraq and Syria, and to ban the return of citizens who went there to fight alongside terrorists.
BNPT, Indonesia’s national counterterrorism agency, estimates that about 800 Indonesians have traveled to Middle East to fight for the Islamic State group (IS.)
Close to 30 were killed while fighting for IS. And more than 150 are believed to have returned to the Indonesia, some of whom became combat trained and tested.
Opposition in parliament
In the last two years Indonesian authorities have become increasingly concerned about the growing terrorist threat from IS militants and supporters, but past efforts to reform the country’s security laws have stalled in the Indonesian parliament.
“The legislature has been notoriously slow and has a massive backlog on the issues it needs to deal with. So the chances of quickly dealing with this issue are not good,” said Greg Barton, director of the Global Terrorism Research Center at Monash University in Australia.
After the Jakarta terrorist attack there is a sense of increased urgency in the parliament to act, but there is still opposition from small but influential Islamic parties in Indonesia that say not all Muslims who join IS become terrorists.
“They were saying you are trying to condemn a bunch of people without sending us strong evidence,” said Indonesia political analyst Alexander Arifianto with the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.
Andreas Harsono, an Indonesian researcher for Human Rights Watch also objects to expanding the power of the police or security forces to detain citizens without showing clear cause or proof of criminal involvement.
“The concern is they want to have the power to arrest anyone,” Harsono said.
Critics worry that increasing police powers could undermine Indonesia’s young democracy. During the dictatorship of President Soeharto that ended in 1998, a draconian anti-subversion law was often used to silence political activists and opposition groups.
On Thursday Detik, an Indonesian news organization reported that officials in the House of Representatives are urging President Widodo to unilaterally revise regulations under the existing 2003 terrorism act to include the reforms he wants.
Even though parliament would still have to approve the measure, this legislative procedure could accelerate the process.
Bahrun Naim, an Indonesian militant based in Syria with the Islamic State movement, remains the police’s prime suspect for organizing the Jakarta attack.
Prior to joining IS in Syria in 2014, he served nearly a 2½ years in prison in the central Java city of Solo for illegal possession of firearms and explosives.
Bahrun has reportedly attempted to recruit Indonesians to commit terror attacks in Central Java last year.
Security officials said Bahrun wants to unite radical groups across Southeast Asia that used to be affiliated with al-Qaida but have splintered and declined in the past decade.
Indonesian national police said Wednesday they detained 12 suspects related to the Jakarta terrorist attack and currently have sufficient evidence to charge six of them.
Also, Singapore authorities said Wednesday that in November and December they arrested 27 Bangladeshi construction workers who supported Islamist groups including al-Qaida and Islamic State. Of those arrested, 26 were deported and 12 were subsequently arrested in Bangladesh on terror charges.