Katharina R. Lestari, Jakarta
Updated: August 14, 2018 05:21 AM GMT
This picture taken on Dec. 11, 2016 shows Dian Yulia Novi, one of two former domestic workers who allegedly volunteered to become suicide bombers in Jakarta and Bali. Indonesian women are taking on a more active role in violent extremism, with some seeking to become Islamic State (IS) group suicide bombers. (Picture by AFP)
It started with what Siti thought was a chance meeting in the street in 2006 as she was returning to her boarding house after long day studying at Bandung University.
The student was thinking about an essay she was supposed to write when she was approached by a teenage girl who asked her if she knew of a good place to rent a room.
"There was a spare room at my boarding house. So I took back to where I was staying," the now 33-year-old Siti told ucanews.com.
Strangely, she refused to see the boarding house owner. Instead, she said she just wanted to talk to Siti first in her room.
When she saw my Quran on a prayer rug she offered me help in understanding it better.
"It was something I was eager to learn more about, so I accepted," Siti said.
The next day, the girl returned with a woman who told Siti to read some Quran verses and then visit her the following day.
Siti did so, but thought it odd the woman's room was bare. All it contained were some rugs and a whiteboard.
What came next startled her, she said.
The woman started with idle chit-chat, then the conversation started getting more sinister, Siti recalled.
She suddenly said killing a kafir (an infidel) was allowed, as was jihad, because they were part of the mission in creating an Islamic state. She also asked her to pay a sum of money and take a baiat, or an oath of allegiance to the Islamic cause.
"I felt like I had been set up," she said, adding she made her excuses, left and never went back.
"I have no doubts they were trying to recruit me," Siti said.
Siti said she was lucky not to have fallen under the spell of militants, but an increasing number of women are doing so and engaging in terrorist activities, according to police.
Two housewives were amongst the two families responsible for the suicide bombings at three churches and the police headquarters in Surabaya on May 13 and 14, which left at least 27 dead.
Another housewife died along with her husband and son in a premature bomb blast at an apartment block that same weekend, also in Surabaya.
On May 12, two women were arrested near a police detention facility in Depok, West Java, for allegedly planning to stab a policeman with scissors.
In 2016, eight women were arrested on terrorism charges, including Dian Yulia Novi who volunteered to blow herself up at the presidential palace in Jakarta.
A 2017 report by the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC) said the 2016 arrests showed Indonesian women want a more active role in violent extremism.
The report linked this to the rise of the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and in Syria and the appeal of a caliphate as a "pure" Islamic state, but also the influence of social media.
"Women have evolved from being ustazah (female preachers), couriers and fundraisers in supporting the IS movement to more active roles," IPAC director Sidney Jones told ucanews.com.
"Following the emergence of social media and radical sites, women become more radical — because they could remain anonymous — in online discussions. They could challenge men's reasoning, which can't be done in an ordinary Islamic learning forum," she said.
"After the establishment of IS in Iraq and in Syria, it intentionally recruited women and their families. Women could become propagandists even though they were initially banned from being combatants," she said, adding that women would arouse less suspicion.
However, according to the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) the transition of Indonesian women into becoming combatants began in 2009 when Mujahidin Indonesia Timur (MIT), a terrorist group operating out of Poso in Central Sulawesi, recruited and trained-up three women for combat due to a lack of recruits.
Irfan Idris, director of the National Counterterrorism Agency's deradicalization program, says many people, particularly young women, have fallen victim to brainwashing.
"Once influenced, it's easy for them to be recruited," he said.
Many Indonesian women left for Syria to join the IS.
"Some became combatants, some become cooks, some were forced to marry militants so that they produce jihadists," he said.
Last year, of 230 Indonesians caught trying to cross the Turkish border from Syria after Islamic State suffered a series of defeats, 25 percent were women.
"This is an alarming figure," said Mira Kusumarini, executive director of the Civil Society against Violent Extremism (C-SAVE), a network of civil society organizations working to address extremism in Indonesia.
On their return to Indonesia they went through a one-month-long government rehabilitation program, including religious teachings and psychological therapy.
"The aim was to prepare them to return them to their communities," she said, adding that this has been by and large successful since many of the returnees were left traumatized and disillusioned by their experiences.
Nur, spent nearly two years in the former IS de-facto capital, Raqqa.
"I went to Syria on my own. I was all for a caliphate. But what I found there was completely different. They were unjust, and only killed people," she said.
The horrors witnessed by Nur and others in Syria has made them wiser to what extremism entails, however, those who remained in Indonesia and have not experienced this remain highly vulnerable to the influence of home-grown extremists and the allure of a local caliphate, according to Jones.
"I think women will continue to play an important role in violent extremism in the future," Jones said.
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