The last significant attack in Jakarta, the capital, was in 2009. The rest of the country, too, has been spared anything like the 2002 bombings on the resort island of Bali that killed 202 people or the second Bali attack that killed 20 in 2005. No civilians have died in terrorist actions in the past 2½ years. The 13 fatalities in 2010 and 2011 — 10 in 2010 and three last year — have been police officers.
In a huge, ethnically diverse country that champions of global jihad once regarded as fertile ground for expansion, the recent calm testifies to the success of a relentless drive by security forces to track, infiltrate and confront violent Islamist groups intent on driving Indonesia from its traditionally moderate moorings.
The falling death toll, however, does not mean that terrorists are no longer active. An alleged plot to stage another attack in Bali fell apart in March when police killed five suspects as they gathered on the island to prepare for bombings at the Hard Rock Cafe and other Western-linked targets.
Mbai, the head of the National Counterterrorism Agency, said the continued plotting shows that authorities need to deploy more than just guns and handcuffs if they want to uproot, rather than just foil, terrorism.
And so, on four occasions over the past year, Mbai, a man reviled by radical Muslims in Indonesia as an enemy of the faith, has traveled here to Depok. He has spoken to a total of 500 clerics drawn from across the country for “anti-radicalization” sessions organized by Kulliyatul Quran al-Hikam, an Islamic boarding school.
“Only you have the capacity to compete, using Islam, with radicals,” Mbai said he told them.
‘Focus on fighting ideas’
Deploying Islam to fight violent, deviant offshoots is not a new idea. Saudi Arabia, sensitive to criticism that its own zealously puritanical strain of Islam, Wahhabism, promotes militancy, has had religion-based programs against radicalization for years. And, at the opposite end of the spectrum, Turkey and Malaysia have long kept a tight grip on what clerics can and cannot preach.
But Indonesia, torn between its attachment to relatively new democratic freedoms and its revulsion toward terrorism, has struggled for years to agree on ways to keep mosques, boarding schools and other institutions free of militant views.