Over the years, about 689 Indonesians have become members of the Islamic State group, mostly women and children. Minister warns their return could threaten 267 million people. The largest moderate Islamic organisation agrees with the government, noting that their decision to join a foreign jihad is against the teachings of Islam and the Qurʼān.
Jakarta (AsiaNews) – The Indonesian government plans to keep the "terrorist virus" out of the country. After days of controversy and debate, Jakarta has decided not to repatriate 689 Indonesian members of the Islamic State (IS) group who in recent years joined its jihad in Iraq and Syria.
Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal, and Security Affairs Mahfud MD made the announcement last night after meeting with officials from the National Counter-Terrorism Agency (BNPT[*]), the Religious Affairs Minister as well as the Law and Human Rights Minister, and attending a closed-door cabinet meeting with President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo.
“The government and the state have to ensure that the 267 million people in Indonesia are safe from the threat of terrorism. If these foreign terrorist fighters come back, they could become a new terrorist virus that threatened those 267 million people,” Mahfud said after the meeting at Bogor Presidential Palace in West Java.
Citing the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the Minister explained that 689 Indonesians have been identified as IS sympathisers. Most of them are currently in Syria and Turkey.
Some 228 people still have Indonesian identity papers, whilst others cannot prove their nationality. For Indonesian authorities, most Indonesian IS sympathisers are women and children.
Mahfud noted that the government still plans to collect information about the Indonesian members of IS and that young children might be repatriated, depending on their circumstances. “Children under 10 will be considered on a case-by-case basis; for example, if they have parents there or not,” he said.
Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), the most important moderate Islamic organisation in Indonesia and the world with approximately 90 million members, welcomed the government's decision.
NU chairman Kiai Haj Said Agil Siradj had already told the authorities that his organisation “rejects the repatriation of former IS combatants and sympathisers”.
After meeting with the Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi, the religious leader stressed that his organisation believed that repatriating former combatants did not reflect what the Qurʼān said.
“Why should we be bothered about whether or not we repatriate 600 people if it could disturb the tranquillity of 260 million others,” he asked.
Indonesia is now vetting ways to eradicate extremist ideologies and counter their spread in the country.
“We have to educate our people to become competent citizens,” said Dr J Kristiadi, a senior fellow at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Jakarta, speaking to AsiaNews. “Every Indonesian is expected to know and understand their rights and duties as citizens,” he added.
“In my personal opinion, some foreign fighters might not be well aware of their duties and rights as Indonesian citizens and that their offence is considered a gross violation of the laws.”
This said, “The future of our country is my concern. Civic education – like raising the flag or singing the national anthem – is not only a practical matter. We must educate people about the true nature of nationalism so that they can behave like citizens who love their country.”
[*] Badan Nasional Penanggulangan Terorisme.