Since the 1966 genocide in Indonesia, many different groups have faced mass discrimination within the nation. One such group are the ethnic Chinese Indonesians, a group that has often attracted the unwanted attention of extremist groups as diverse as Pancasila Youth and the many radical Islamic groups.

Recently, one such plot to target Chinese Indonesians was foiled by Indonesian Security Services. The Indonesian police arrested “17 suspected members of the al-Qaeda-linked terrorist group Jemaah Islamiah before the attacks in West Java could be carried out, a senior security source said on Thursday”. In addition, they also seized several small arms and hundred rounds of ammunition. The group in question was that of Jemaah Islamiah (JI), the same organisation that committed the Bail Bombings in 2002 which killed 202 people.

According to one source “the plan was to attack shop owners in Banten [province] and Tasikmalaya city,”. This comes at a time when support for communism is claimed to have been growing within Indonesia. However, the evidence in support of this claim is mostly built of false rhetoric and hoaxes.

In consequence of the 1966-67 political killings, the issue of communism has always been a complex one in Indonesian politics. Ethnic Chinese Indonesians are often associated with communism and its spread throughout Southeast Asia, including in Malaysia.

As a result, many anti-communist groups target Chinese Indonesians in places such as the West Java, where Chinese Indonesians own and operate many small businesses in the local area. The reason for their targeting is based on decades-old rhetoric that Chinese Indonesians are second-class citizens and that they should be treated as such due to their alleged past association with the Communist Party.

The security services have stated that “Jemaah Islamiah terrorists were planning to infiltrate local motorbike gangs in the two areas and to create “chaos” that would distract the police”. From this while local police were busy dealing with local gangs, the group would then attack Chinese Indonesian in their shops. Such a plot marks a return to a strategy of direct terrorist attacks committed by JI, an approach that has been less favoured since the death of Osama bin Laden in 2011. Following bin Laden’s death, the group has been in decline, with other groups such as Jemaah Ansharut Daulah being on the rise.

Since the rise of ISIS internationally and Southeast Asia, nearly all major attacks have instead been carried out by Islamic State affiliations, in this case Jemaah Ansharut Daulah. Such organisations have often been seen as the symbolic rival to Jemmah Islamiah. With Densus 88 (Detachment 88) being used to carry out preventive strikes against the group, this could see a serious shift regarding how JI is viewed domestically within Indonesia and how Indonesian special counterterrorism police are being used.

Alongside this, in recent years JI has also had to change its structure and its funding models. This is due to the arrest of its key leader Para Wijiayanto. Following his arrest it was discovered that the group “had business interests in palm oil plantations in Kalimantan and Sumatra. This enabled the group to pay its “officers” a monthly salary of 10-15 million rupiah (US$680 to US$1,022), according to police.” Wijayanto was sentenced to prison on terrorist charges in Jakarta last July, however former leader, Nasir Abas stated that the recent arrest showed the growth of JI’s terrorist networks within Java.

The reemergence of JI must be especially worrying considering for Chinese Indonesians living in Java, and poses tremendous threat to the liberties of all groups within Indonesians societies. While the successes of Detachment 88 demonstrate the undoubted counterterrorism capacity of the Indonesian security services, the growing incidence of unsuccessful deradicalisation initiatives demonstrates that the fight against Islamic extremism in the region has further to go.

Nathan Wilson is a student of philosophy and politics at the University of Stirling, specialising in International Politics and Political Violence within the Asia-Pacific region. He previously studied abroad at Lingnan University in Hong Kong. 

Picture: Anti-Chinese sentiment reached its peak in May 1998, when major riots swept over Jakarta. Public domain. 

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