ISIS story: The story behind Indonesia’s first female suicide bomber
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- Jemaah Islamiyah Jemaah Islamiyah is a Southeast Asian militant extremist Islamist terror group...[+]
- Al-Qaeda Al-Qaeda is a global militant Islamist organization founded by Osama bin...[+]
There is a flawed relationship between size and power. Bears and lions provoke fear, yet the mosquito is the more ferocious killer. Humans can be similar. Take Dian Yulia Novi. She stands less than 5 ft. tall, but her true power is in her will. And in the pressure cooker packed with explosives she planned to detonate at Indonesia’s presidential palace. Recruited online by the Islamic State (ISIS), she was determined to die as a martyr for global jihad. Until her arrest on Dec. 10, the 27-year-old was set to become the first female suicide bomber in the world’s most-populous Muslim-majority nation.
“In Islam, men and women are different,” she tells TIME in an exclusive interview at Kelapa Dua prison, south of Jakarta. “But now, jihad is mandatory for all Muslims, just like praying. Everyone must do jihad.”
Dian is friendly and chatty, wearing a long dark brown hijab and gray gloves, which occasionally bring a small bottle of eucalyptus oil to her covered nose. “For nausea,” she says. Only her dark, piercing eyes are visible through her full-face niqab veil, a habit she picked up during a stint as a migrant worker in Taiwan. That was also where she was radicalized online. Indonesia has battled for decades against homegrown Islamic extremism, but ISIS presents an entirely new challenge, inciting “lone wolf” attacks and propelling women into the front line for the first time. A few days after Dian’s arrest, another woman, Ika Puspitasari, was arrested for plotting a suicide bombing in the tourist island of Bali on New Year’s Eve. “Nowadays more men are hiding from waging jihad,” says Dian. “So why can’t a woman volunteer?”
The rise of ISIS comes as Indonesia’s fledgling, secular democracy is increasingly under threat from a resurgent Islamist right. While Europe has so far felt the brunt of ISIS-inspired terrorist plots, these forces threaten to turn the Southeast Asian nation of 250 million into a maelstrom of radicalization. In a 2014 survey, Indonesian scholar Al Chaidar recorded 2 million ISIS followers in Indonesia. More than 600 Indonesians are currently fighting with ISIS in Syria, helping to spread the group’s warped ideology to compatriots back home. Their goal is a Southeast Asian caliphate governed by Shari‘a, similar to that hewed in the dusty borderlands of Iraq and Syria by ISIS. And with more than 191 million Indonesian Muslims targeted by ISIS as potential recruits, the tiniest uptick in radical support could have hitherto unseen repercussions across the planet.
Indonesia’s Islamists traditionally struck from jungle hideouts across its vast archipelago of 6,000 inhabited islands, mirroring the Pattani-Malay insurgents of Thailand and the Moro rebels of the Philippines. But in recent years, the nation’s burgeoning migrant worker community — toiling in factories and glitzy apartment buildings predominantly in Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan and Saudi Arabia — has proved especially vulnerable to online radicalization, with serious repercussions for global security.
“The challenge now is we can’t identify them,” says Siti Dorojatul “Dete” Aliah, director of Jakarta’s Institute for International Peace Building, who has interviewed more than 50 female jihadis. “Maybe there are many Dian Yulia Novi scattered around Indonesia. We don’t know how to approach them because they don’t belong to any groups.”
In January last year, five ISIS devotees attacked a Starbucks in central Jakarta with bombs and guns, leaving seven dead including the attackers. In July, a botched suicide bombing at a police station in central Java killed the attacker and injured one officer. In November, police foiled a plot to bomb the Myanmar embassy in Jakarta. These attacks broke seven years of relative calm since the last major attack by Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), Indonesia’s al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorist group. But now new recruits — often self-indoctrinated online like Dian — are being targeted by fanatical JI splinter cells. Three such groups have claimed to represent ISIS in Indonesia, of which the most prominent is Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD).