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Indonesia's deradicalization program under fire

Critics call anti-extremist policy a failure as it's too radical, fails to address individual needs

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Indonesia's deradicalization program under fire

Indonesian policemen examine a church after a man attacked a Catholic priest in Medan on Aug. 28. A knife-wielding attacker stabbed the Catholic priest and tried to set off an explosive device at the church. (Photo by AFP)

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A deradicalization program initiated five years ago by Indonesia's National Counterterrorism Agency has failed to curb extremism, according to a terrorism expert.

The program seeks to rehabilitate terrorist prisoners and former detainees in terrorism-related cases and looks to turn their families away from extremism as well.

It focuses on persuading them through dialogues on ideology and psychological counseling that extremism and violent acts are wrong. The government also provides assistance to help them with employment opportunities.

However, terror attacks have continued. In January, at least eight people — including four attackers — were killed in a bomb and gun attack in Jakarta. In August a Catholic priest was attacked at the Santo Yosef church in Medan.

More recently, on Nov. 13, a convicted terrorist threw petrol bombs into the parking lot of Protestant church in Samarinda, East Kalimantan province, killing an infant and injuring three other children.

"This shows [the program] is a failure," said Al Chaidar an analyst from the University of Malikussaleh in Aceh, told ucanews.com.

Al Chaidar said the program looks at radicalization in a one dimensional and regimented way by focusing solely on extremism as a whole and not doing enough to look at each individual or group and discovering why they were seduced by radical thoughts.

"As a result the program uses radicalism approach to fight radicalism. This is a wrong way of thinking," he said.

Instead, the National Counterterrorism Agency must look at each person individually to exorcise terrorist prisoners and detainees of their extremism and reinforce this by instilling fundamental religious principles and helping them with their individual needs.

"In order to make them moderate," there must be a socio-humanisation program, he said.

Al Chaidar was responding to recent comments by National Police spokesman Inspector-General Boy Rafli Amar, who said the deradicalization program was suffering from the police's inability to completely monitor former detainees in terrorism-related cases.

"The program will be evaluated by both National Police and National Counterterrorism Agency," Amar told news website Tempo.co.

Referring to the bomb attack on the church, he said that seven people were named suspects, including the convicted terrorist.

"Looking at existing documents, symbols and other evidence, they can be categorised as Islamic State sympathisers," Amar told reporters, on Nov. 20.

A flag of the so-called Islamic State was found by police in the bomber's home.

According to Chaidar, the Islamic State is undermining Indonesia's deradicalization campaign by seeking to stir unrest and chaos in other parts of the world as it comes under increased pressure in Iraq and Syria and even in the Philippines.

"They don't want to lose their power. So they order their supporters elsewhere [including Indonesia] to commit brutal attacks," he said.

Khairul Ghazali, a Muslim cleric who was imprisoned for being a mentor to jihadists, claimed millions of Indonesian people are Islamic State sympathisers because of its ideology.

"There's the idea of the establishment of an Islamic caliphate where justice, welfare and security can be found," he told ucanews.com.

Regarding the government's deradicalization program, he said the agency needs to get a firm grip on what people who are likely to embrace extremism are thinking.

"They don't really know what to do," he said.

According to the National Counterterrorism Agency's deradicalization director, Irfan Idris, the program, as of 2016, had turned 530 former detainees in terrorism-related cases away from extremism, while 222 terrorist prisoners remained behind bars.

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