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Indonesian opposition grows to bringing IS fighters home

Repatriating former insurgents and their families from Syria would be a grave security risk, observers say

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Indonesian opposition grows to bringing IS fighters home

Indonesians arrive at at camp near Raqa in Syria after fleeing the Islamic State group in June 2017. (Photo: AFP)

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Opposition is growing in Indonesia to repatriating about 600 Islamic State fighters and their families from the Middle East, with many saying their return will endanger the country.

Most of the would-be returnees are women and children who want to return to Indonesia because their husbands had either been killed in the war or imprisoned in Iraq and Syria. 

The wives and children of dead fighters are facing an uncertain future in Syrian camps following the Islamic group’s defeat last year.

The National Counterterrorism Agency said the government has not yet decided whether to bring the women and children home but was looking at the possibility of doing so.

President Joko Widodo said last week that he is still discussing the idea of repatriating them with various ministries and institutions including the counterterrosim agency, although personally he does not want them to return.

“We must look at this very carefully, then I will make a decision," he said, adding that he would decide no later than April.

However, there is a groundswell of opposition to any such move, including from Muslim leaders.

“They left this country, burned their passports. They consider us allies of Satan,” Said Aqil Siradj, chairman of Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), the biggest Islamic organization in Indonesia, told reporters on Jan 8. 

“They are killers, slaughterers, rapists. Why are they to be repatriated?” he said, adding that they had committed serious crimes against humanity.

Azumardy Azra, a prominent Muslim scholar, expressed fears of an upsurge of terrorism in Indonesia if they return. “The government must be careful. Their return won’t be good for Indonesia,” he told UCA News.

Stanislaus Riyanta, an intelligence analyst at the University of Indonesia, said Islamic State fighters forfeited their right to Indonesian citizenship when they agreed to support another cause in the Middle East.

“Islamic State ideology has been instilled in them and it would be difficult for them to change [their ideology],” he told UCA News.

“If the government has a sense of humanity and is serious about protecting millions of Indonesian people, it has to scrap any plan to bring them back here.” 

According to Article 23 of the Indonesian Citizenship Law, any citizen who professes loyalty to foreign powers will be rendered stateless. 

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