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Indonesian returnees from Syria put under close watch

Group of 18 who joined Islamic State under heavy suspicion despite claiming they were duped by extremists

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Indonesian returnees from Syria put under close watch

Indonesian women are seen here in this June 13 photo at a camp, 50 kilometres north of Raqqa, after fleeing the so-called Islamic State's Syrian bastion a few days earlier. (Photo by Ayham al-Mohammad/AFP)

Indonesia's Home Affairs Minister Tjahjo Kumolo has called on local government officials to closely monitor the activities of a group of people who recently returned home after joining the so-called Islamic State (IS) in Syria, despite them saying they were duped by the extremists.

The group of 18, mostly women and children, have been put on a watch list after being detained for questioning by anti-terrorism officials at Jakarta's Soekarno–Hatta International Airport when they returned from the war-torn country on Aug. 12.

Before returning home they gave media interviews in which they explained how their dream of living in an Islamic "paradise" turned into a living nightmare.

Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, is on heightened alert over potential terror threats following a surge in extremism inspired by the rise of IS in the Middle East.

Around 600 Indonesians had signed up to fight for IS in Syria, according to Indonesian authorities.

According to the Foreign Ministry, the group of 18 left Indonesia in August 2015 and spent around 40 days at an IS camp in Raqqa before spending more than a year in detention and isolation cells for refusing to fight for the group. They managed to escape on June 10 this year.

Nevertheless, Kumolo said they would still need to be watched.

"I call on all district and sub-district heads to make sure they go back to their homes and their activities closely monitored. We cannot deny them their right to return, so we must watch them," Kumolo said.

They need to be monitored to stop them spreading radicalism in society, he added.

The National Counterterrorism Agency "must de-radicalize them following their return. They were brainwashed before they left [for Syria]. So we must reverse this now they have returned," he said.

Ridwan Habib, a terrorism expert from the University of Indonesia, echoed the need for monitoring.

"There is no direct threat. Still, there are possible threats in the context of recruitment and spread of their radical ideology. This is dangerous," he told ucanews.com on Aug. 14.

The returnees, particularly the male ones, must undergo an evaluation to find out whether they returned to Indonesia of their own free will, he said.

"They could still be intent on creating an Islamic state. If they pass muster, they should re-enter society but under close scrutiny."  

Father Paulus Christian Siswantoko, executive secretary of the Indonesian bishops' Commission for Justice and Peace, also expressed concern over the returnees because of the very fact that "they are IS sympathizers."

If they are not monitored, what they learned in Syria could be used here, he said.

The returnees, however, said they were duped by IS.

One returnee, Nurshadrina Kharia Dhania, told the media that she and the others began supporting IS because they "shared only good things on the internet."

She said she thought Syria would be the perfect place to pursue her dream to study Islam and train to be a doctor. However, it all turned out to be very different.

"I am very regretful. I was very stupid and very naive. I blame myself," she said.


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