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Indonesian authorities hunt Islamic State operative’s cyber recruits

Indonesian authorities hunt Islamic State operative’s cyber recruits


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On Mar. 30, the US Treasury Department designated Bahrun Naim, a senior Islamic State figure from Indonesia, as a terrorist. It was the latest in a series of US government designations targeting the self-declared caliphate’s network in Southeast Asia.
Naim absconded from his home and made his way to the self-declared caliphate’s stronghold in northern Syria in either late 2014 or early 2015 just months after Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s followers declared him ‘Caliph Ibrahim.’

Naim, a computer guru who once worked at an Internet café, had spent a short stint in prison after being convicted on illegal weapons charges in 2010. He developed a number of suspicious relationships with extremists, especially in his home city of Solo on the island of Java. Naim was also once a member of Hizbut Tahrir, which seeks to resurrect the Islamic caliphate, but abstains from overt acts of violence. According to Voice of America, a spokesman for Hizbut Tahrir claimed that Naim was expelled from the group when it was discovered that he was in possession of a gun.

Still, Naim was mainly a minor irritant for local authorities before his departure for Syria.

More than two years later, Indonesian authorities and allied governments throughout Southeast Asia are hunting Naim’s recruits, attempting to stop potentially dozens of men and women from killing in the name of the caliphate.

The 33 year-old Naim may be half a world away in Raqqa, Syria, but he has been able to lead his followers via social media applications. Using Telegram and possibly other apps, Naim provides aspiring terrorists in his home country with bomb-making advice and also helps them select targets to attack. He has been one of the most prolific planners of the Islamic State’s so-called remote-controlled attacks even if, to date, most of his operations have been thwarted.

Naim isn’t just abusing social media applications such as Telegram. He has also reportedly made use of Paypal and bitcoins to bankroll terrorist operations, according to the Straits Times.

In its designation, Treasury noted that Naim reportedly organized and funded the Jan. 14, 2016 attack in Jakarta. Four people were killed and 23 more injured that day. The damage could have been far worse, as a team of several terrorists from the Islamic State’s local branch coordinated suicide bombings and shootings in the heart of a civilian shopping area. It appears the suicide team wasn’t very well-trained, otherwise the death toll would have been higher.

Naim has assembled teams of jihadists throughout Indonesia by relying on his personal rolodex of extremists. And he has augmented this network through his prolific use of social media. There is no question that encrypted messaging apps make Naim’s job easier, but his in person ties to a web of Indonesian extremists are no less important. It is this combination of Naim’s pre-existing relationships in his home country and the ease with which he can communicate online that has caused headaches for counterterrorism officials.

The Jakarta attack is a case in point. While Naim’s digital hand was detected in the planning of the operation, other jihadist figures inside Indonesia were also instrumental.

One of them is a radical cleric named Oman Rochman (also known as Aman Abdurrahman), who has long known Naim. Rochman (pictured on the right) has been imprisoned in Indonesia since 2010, yet he directed the Islamic State’s operations inside the country for months after Baghdadi’s caliphate declaration in the summer of 2014. Rochman was convicted on terrorism-related charges stemming from his support for a camp run by Jemaah Islamiyah, an al Qaeda-affiliated group. Al Qaeda is opposed to the Islamic State vehemently so. However, as Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s cause began to mushroom in the summer of 2014, the Indonesian jihadist scene split between the two rival camps. Rochman went the way of the so-called caliphate.

Treasury designated Rochman as a terrorist in January, describing him as the ‘de facto leader for all [Islamic State] supporters in Indonesia.’ From behind bars, Rochman has played a prominent role in recruiting for the group’s operations abroad, personally blessing the travels of some new recruits and even requiring them to obtain a recommendation from him before departing for Syria. He has acted as the ‘main translator’ in Indonesia for the Islamic State’s propaganda, disseminating the organization’s media throughout the country. And he issued a fatwa (decree) from prison in January 2016 encouraging Indonesian militants to join Baghdadi’s enterprise.

Rochman worked with still another US-designated terrorist, Tuah Febriwansyah (also known as Muhammad Fachry), to build the Islamic State’s organizational capacity inside Indonesia. Jemmah Anshorut Tauhid (JAT) was one of the many Indonesian extremist groups affected by the rise of Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s enterprise and its global competition with al Qaeda. In mid-2014, according to Treasury, JAT leaders sought Febriwansyah’s support to bolster JAT during a schism over allegiance to the Islamic State. Officials credit Febriwansyah and his comrades with recruiting as many as 37 Indonesians on behalf of the so-called caliphate. Febriwansyah was arrested on Mar. 21, 2015, but that hasn’t stopped other Islamic State converts from continuing with their business.

For instance, Rochman ‘authorized’ the Jakarta operation from behind bars, according to Treasury. Just weeks beforehand, he ordered one of the terrorists responsible ‘to carry out [Islamic State] attacks in January 2016. Thus, Rochman provided a veneer of religious authority for the targeting of innocent civilians. Indonesian authorities may have finally grown wise to Rochman’s scheming last year and placed him in a higher security facility, thereby limiting his contact with outsiders. Regardless, the threat posed by the Islamic State’s local network remains virulent.

The muscle for the Jakarta plot came from Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD), which was designated as a terrorist organization by the State Department in January. After the Islamic State’s caliphate declaration in 2014, a large number of Indonesian jihadists rushed to declare their allegiance. Confusion ensued over which group would represent Baghdadi’s cause. Thus, as Foggy Bottom reported, Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD) was created in 2015 as an umbrella organization for almost two dozen Indonesian extremist groups that pledged allegiance to [Islamic State] leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Rochmans hand guided the process.

JAD provides Naim with a base of supporters ready to carry out his bidding. Not only did Naim fund the JAD men responsible for the assault on Jakarta, he has transferred large sums of cash to fuel his broader plans, which he unfurled almost immediately upon his arrival in Syria.

In its Mar. 30 designation, Treasury noted that Naim orchestrated a series of failed plots beginning in 2015. In August of that year, Naim reportedly instructed three men in Solo, Indonesia to plan a bomb attack of a police post, a church, and a Chinese temple. Around that same time, he provided instructions and funding to an Indonesia-based associate for the purpose of establishing and training a bomb-making cell. Authorities disbanded the cell, but Naim didn’t give up on the idea of establishing a bomb-making unit capable of doing his bidding. He simply called on other associates to form a new cell, which he also funded.

Naim’s plots, relying on JAD operatives, have kept coming in the months since.

Reuters counted at least 15 foiled attacks and more than 150 terror-related arrests in Indonesia during 2016. Not all of these plots were directly tied to Naim, but at least several of them, including the most significant ones, were.

In August 2016, Indonesian police raided one Naim’s cells on Batam island. His minions reportedly intended to fire rockets at Singapore’s Marina Bay, which is just 10 miles or so across the waterway. Marina Bay is an especially affluent area, with high-end shopping, a busy casino, a massive ferris wheel and all of the other types of locales one would expect well-to-do travelers to frequent. Members of the Batam cell were in direct contact with Bahrun Naim in Syria and he had ordered them to attack Singapore and Batam, National Police Chief Tito Karnavian told reporters at a press conference, according to Reuters.

Members of the Batam crew, like many of Naim’s other accomplices, were put out of work in short order. But the cat-and-mouse game that authorities and Naim are playing is deadly serious. Of particular concern is Naim’s expertise in crafting sophisticated explosives. He is transferring his know-how to followers inside Indonesia and potentially elsewhere. And it isn’t just men who are volunteering for Naim’s schemes. He is also luring women into his designs, describing them as terror ‘brides.’

In November of last year, Indonesian authorities discovered a terror cell that reportedly had ambitious plans to strike several targets at once during the holiday season, including the parliament. According to the Straits Times, the Islamic State loyalists had obtained military-grade explosive material such as TNT and RDX in such large quantities that it could have caused twice the damage done in the 2002 Bali bombings, which were carried out by the aforementioned Jemaah Islamiyah. To put the matter in perspective: More than 200 people were killed in the Bali bombings, yet Indonesian officials think the Islamic State’s men were building a bomb twice as deadly.

Then, in December of last year, Indonesia’s elite counterterrorism force, Detachment 88, detected a cell of several jihadists who were planning to bomb Jakarta’s presidential palace.

‘This is a new (terrorist) cell and they had learned to make bombs from Bahrun Naim using the Telegram messaging (smartphone) application,’ Colonel Awi, an Indonesian official, explained. The Straits Times again drew attention to the explosives involved, reporting that the recovered bomb was more powerful than military-grade TNT, with a police official adding it could destroy anything within a radius of 300 meters.

The Islamic State’s Indonesian men reportedly intended to have a woman, Dian Yulia Novi, deliver the bomb. Novi’s newfound husband was in on the plot. And authorities discovered her ‘martyrdom’ letter to her parents. Time magazine profiled Novi in early March (‘ISIS Unveiled: The Story Behind Indonesia’s First Female Suicide Bomber’). Naim recruited her husband, Nur Solihin, and also told him to find a bride capable of carrying out an operation. Solihin was already married to another woman, Time reported, but he added Novi as a wife in order to comply with Naim’s directions.

According to the Associated Press and other press outlets, Novi subsequently confessed that Naim had ordered her to strike a popular changing of the guard ceremony at the palace.

Once again, Telegram was Naim’s preferred means for communicating with his followers back home. I had been communicating with him for three days, yes, via Telegram, Novi allegedly admitted, according to ABC. ‘He told me which target to bomb, the Presidential Palace Military Guards.’

Source: /Long War Journal