The Age ran an interview today with Abdul Rahman Ayub, a former leader of Jemaah Islamiyah’s Australian branch. As JI’s activities in Australia are not widely-known, here is a short history of how its Australian presence developed, in the context of JI’s own formation and its split from an earlier movement, Darul Islam.
This history has been compiled from notes I had been making for a paper a few months ago, before deciding to focus the paper on a different topic. I would be keen to hear feedback from JI watchers.
This post largely covers up to 1999 and does not go into detail on the Jack Roche plot and how some JI factions decided to support al-Qaeda’s global terror campaign, which I may address in a follow-up post. Sources have been placed at the bottom.
The global jihadist movement received some support from within Australia during the 1990s, but on a much smaller scale than in Europe. The Australian connections were primarily through small and informal networks which enabled some individuals to train or fight overseas, mainly in Pakistan with Lashkar e-Toiba and in Afghanistan with Al Qaeda.
The most significant formal network in Australia was Mantiqi IV, which resulted in the country’s first planned act of jihadist terrorism, the Jack Roche plot. Mantiqi IV was the local branch of Jemaah Islamiyah, a jihadist organisation based throughout Southeast Asia that had the chief goal of establishing an Islamic State in Indonesia.
Jemaah Islamiyah’s origins lie in Darul Islam, an Islamist movement that waged an insurgency against the Republic of Indonesia until 1962. The Sukarno regime defeated the rebellion and captured, tried and executed its leader, Sekarmadji Karidjan Kartosoewirjo. The Suharto regime, which took power in 1966, continued to suppress Darul Islam. However, attempts by the intelligence organisation Opsus to revive and control this underground movement, in order to manipulate the 1971 election, created a window of opportunity. Darul Islam took advantage, re-gained a national base and re-asserted its challenge to the state through both political activity and violent action.
The movement developed a territorial command structure that mirrored that of the Indonesian army. Its members conceived themselves as belonging to an already existing Islamic State (albeit one that needed to be defended from a secular regime) the Negara Islam Indonesia (NII) declared by Kartosoewirjo in 1949. Among its members were Abdullah Sungkar and Abu Baku Bashir, who would later establish JI.
Sugnkar and Bashir joined Darul Islam in 1976, and had been Islamist preachers with a significant following in their own right. They ran a school known as Pondok Ngruki, and operated an anti-government radio station until it was shut down in 1975. Their approach to creating an Islamic State differed from that of Darul Islam as a whole, foreshadowing the eventual split. The two preachers were influenced by international Islamist writers such as al-Maududi and Hasan al-Banna, founder of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and had a Middle Eastern-influenced and puritanical understanding of Islam. By contrast, Darul Islam’s understanding of Islam, while absolutist, was heterodox in that it contained Sufi elements and local folk traditions.
More significant were strategic differences. The two preachers adopted a new approach to undermining the state after being arrested in 1978 then released in 1982. Sungkar and Bashir became key figures in the Usroh movement, which was an attempt by at least two factions of Darul Islam to build a new base of support by creating small, interlinked study circles, which was an organisational concept derived from the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. This was more sophisticated, and less overtly confrontational, than Darul Islam’s strategy of creating a shadow government. Sungkar and Bashir also sought further international linkages. During this time, their first connections to Australia developed.
The first key connection resulted from an Australian woman who converted to Islam, Rabiyah Hutchinson, becaming an enthusiastic participant in the Usroh movement. In early 1984, Hutchinson met Abdullah Sungkar and Abu Baku Bashir, worked for a period at their school, Pondok Ngruki, and then travelled to Jakarta and joined one of their Usroh groups. There she met a Darul Islam follower Abdul Rahim Ayub (it was his brother, Abdul Rahman Ayub, who featured in The Age today). Ayub was critical of Sungker and Bashir for deviating from the broader movement, but after Hutchinson introduced Ayub to the two clerics during a trip to Ngruki, he became a loyal disciple.
However, her travels coincided with the Suharto regime’s renewed repression of Islamist opposition. The Indonesian military opened fire on protesters at Tanjung Priok, north of Jakarta, and the authorities detained and tortured several Usroh members. Hutchinson went into hiding with Ayub. The two returned to Ngruki in early 1985 and married each other, with Sungkar officiating. This year was a turning point for Sungkar’s DI faction, and when Indonesia’s Supreme Court ruled that Sungkar and Bashir should be re-imprisoned, they fled to Malaysia with many of their followers. It was also not safe for Hutchinson and Ayub, so they came to live in Australia, where Abdul Rahim Ayub would later be asked by Sungkar to continue their struggle.
Indonesia’s suppression of Islamism in the 1980s resulted in many activists fleeing to other countries. Many more than Abdul Rahim Ayub fled to Australia, though none would later prove to be as central to JI. One person who fled Indonesia after the Tanjung Priok massacre was Zainal Arifan, who was a religious teacher and acquaintance of Abdul Rahim Ayub, and would later prove to be an obstacle to Mantiqi IV.
From Malaysia, Sungkar and Bashir arranged for many of their followers to fight and train with the anti-Soviet mujahideen in Afghanistan. Several of their followers fought with Osama bin Ladin in the Battle of Jaji, and trained with international jihadists in camps in Pakistan, which set the stage for the al-Qaeda-JI relationship that existed in the 1990s.
By this point, differences between Sungkar’s faction and the rest of Darul Islam were becoming clearer. Structurally, Sungkar had established international connections well beyond those of any other DI leader. Strategically, his faction eschewed DI’s unsuccessful overt method of attempting to re-establish an Islamic State, its territorial command model, and did not yet engage in violence in Indonesia, instead making a considered effort to acquire arms, training and experience in anticipation of a coming war. They also understood that the NII did not in any realistic sense exist, because it did not control territory, and hence saw the need for safe-havens in external countries. Sungkar and Bashir used their Malaysian exile to travel widely and build support for their movement, including in Australia.
On April 1990, Hutchinson and Ayub hosted Sungkar and Bashir on their first visit to Australia. They travelled throughout Melbourne and had minor celebrity status among some members of the Indonesian Diaspora as victims of Suharto.
Hutchinson divorced Ayub that year and she left for Pakistan. From this point on Ayub would be responsible for Sungkar and Bashir’s many visits. On January 1991 Ayub contacted Zainal Arifin in Sydney, whom he had not seen in years, and secured his agreement to host the preachers’ next trip. Following a meeting in Sydney, they agreed to form “Darul Islam in exile”, with Abdul Rahim Ayub as head, and under the overall command of Sungkar and Bashir. They raised an estimated $15,000 a year, at this stage the money was given on the basis of opposition to Suharto, and not for terrorist activity (which JI did not engage in until the turn of the century).
Ayub struggled to build a large following, particularly as Zainal Arifin came to leave the movement, along with ten others, refusing to take orders from Sungkar. Ayub then had to move to Sydney look after the small number of Darul Islam followers remaining.
Sungkar and Bashir officially broke away from Darul Islam on January 1, 1993, and declared the establishment of Jemaah Islamiyah. The JI guidelines were delivered to Ayub and he was instructed to lead the group secretly, not mentioning its existence to outsiders. Sungkar and Bashir argued to their Australian supporters that Darul Islam’s lack of territory showed the need to form a new group, with one follower recalling, “Bashir said that to be Darul Islam you need to have a place, some land, but they didn’t have a place or any land, so the view was that the group shouldn’t be named as a state any more but should just be named group or community.”
JI operated along a territorially-based command structure, but unlike Darul Islam, it was more covert and extended across Southeast Asia. By 1997, four such territorially-based commands were established, called Mantiqis. Mantiqi I covered Singapore and Malaysia, Mantiqi II covered most of Indonesia, and Mantiqi III covered Mindanao, Sabah and Sulawesi (in the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia respectively). Mantiqi IV covered Australia and Papua.
Mantiqi IV’s primary responsibility was fundraising, and Australia was a very low priority for JI. Sidney Jones stated that Mantqi IV was initially intended to be established in Sulawesi, which “implies a mantiqi in Australia was never really a going concern”. Nasir Abas, who was head of Mantiqi III and later cooperated with authorities, wrote that the Australian branch was never actually a Mantiqi and was not called Mantiqi IV. He states that it was actually called Mantiqi Ukhra, which translates as “another Mantiqi incomplete”, which both suggests Australia’s low importance to the movement and accurately describes its lack of success.
The branch was in many ways a failure, which their unsuccessful attempt to take over administration of a new Mosque being built in Sydney demonstrated. Zainal Arifin was the main imam for the Mosque, but Abdul Rahim Ayub attempted to have his brother, the jihadist veteran Abdul Rahman Ayub (who entered Australia in 1997 and sought refugee status), installed as imam instead. The result was a confrontation that ended with Arifin taking out Apprehended Violence Orders against the Ayub twins. Some Mantiqi IV members remained in Sydney, while others including the Ayubs moved to Perth and tried to recruit Islamic converts and Indonesian students.
Mantiqi IV were widely regarded as the “weak link” in JI. They expended much effort and money on keeping Abdul Rahman Ayub in Australia (he was denied refugee status and faced deportation) and on trying to keep control of the Mantiqi, as the Melbourne and Sydney based members had begun sending money directly to Bashir rather than through the Ayubs. The Mantiqi was always small –ASIO estimated that Mantiqi IV had 30 members and possibly 100 supporters across three States (Abdul Rahman Ayub states similar figures in The Age today) – and relatively dysfunctional. In 1998 JI dispatched Asman Hashim, a veteran of jihad in Mindanao, to Australia to professionalise the branch.
However, the Mantiqi’s presence did result in Australia’s first jihadist plot, because of al-Qaeda’s successful co-optation of a segment of JI through individuals such as Hambali. In 2000 Mantiqi IV member Jack Roche travelled to Afghanistan to fight with the Taliban (Hambili facilitated the trip and was his main point of contact). While there he was asked by senior Al-Qaeda leaders to do reconnaissance for attacks intended to take place during the Sydney Olympics. The targets were the Israeli embassy in Canberra, the Israeli consulate in Sydney, a prominent Jewish businessman in Melbourne. Mantiqi Four was largely unsupportive of the plot (though there are different versions of what happened and the truth isn’t clear) and the Ayubs felt their authority was being undercut, which helped the plot to fail. It’s fortunate that the plot fell apart by itself, as Australian authorities were unaware of it until after the 2002 Bali bombings.
Following the Bali bombings, homes of suspected Mantiqi IV members were raided in Sydney, Melbourne and Perth. Roche was charged over the 2000 bombing plot, and pleaded guilty.
Abas, Nasir (2005) Unveiling Jamaah Islamiyah: Confessions of an Ex-JI Member, Jakarta: Grafindo Khazanah Ilmu. (Written in Bahasa Indonesian, I read a later English translation which I can’t find a link for online) Update 1: In the comments Jack Roche has provided a translation, available here.
Chulov, Martin (2006) Australian Jihad: The Battle Against Terrorism From Within and Without, Sydney: Pan Macmillan.
Fealy, Greg and Borgu, Aldo (2005) Local Jihad: Radical Islam and terrorism in Indonesia, Australian Strategic Policy Institute.
Jones, Sidney (2004) Indonesia Backgrounder: Jihad in Central Sulawesi, ICG Asia Report No. 74, Brussels and Jakarta, 3 February.
Jones, Sidney (2010) “ New Order Repression and the Birth of Jemaah Islamiyah” in Soeharto’s New Order and Its Legacy , Canberra: ANU E Press.
Michaelson, Christopher (2005) “Antiterrorism Legislation in Australia: A Proportionate Response to the Terrorist Threat?”, Studies in Conflict & Terrorism vol. 28, iss. 4, pp. 321-339.
Neighbour, Sally (2004) In the Shadow of the Swords: On the Trail of Terrorism From Afghanistan to Australia, Sydney: HarperCollinsPublishers.
Neighbour, Sally (2009) The Mother of Mohammed: An Australian Woman’s Extraordinary Journey into Jihad, Melbourne: Melbourne University Press.
Temby, Quinton (2010) “Imagining an Islamic State in Indonesia: From Darul Islam to Jemaah Islamiyah”, Indonesia, Volume 89 (April).