Indonesia’s struggling deradicalisation policy

Indonesia’s vaunted “deradicalisation programme” aimed at bringing terrorists back into mainstream Islam has been exposed as a myth by recent arrests of re-offenders, analysts and police said. Senior police now acknowledge that no such programme exists and are issuing increasingly stark warnings that, on the contrary, the mainly Muslim country’s prisons are at risk of becoming schools of violent jihad.

The final straw appears to have been the re-arrest Wednesday of Abdullah Sunata, 32, on suspicion of plotting attacks on the Danish embassy and a police parade. He was released from jail last year for good behaviour after serving only a fraction of a seven-year sentence for his role in a 2004 attack on the Australian embassy, which killed 10 people.

National police spokesman Edward Aritonang said Sunata’s case was further evidence that Indonesia’s prisons, far from helping to rehabilitate terrorists, risked turning into terrorist “schools”.

It is time to look at a “new system or method, so the counselling for prisoners truly works and prisons don’t become schools” of radicalisation, he said.

Counter-terrorism squad chief Colonel Tito Karnavian complains that the notoriously corrupt correction system effectively provides extremists a sanctuary to preach, recruit and plot.

Recognising the danger, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has ordered the creation of a national counter-terrorism body, focusing on prevention and rehabilitation, which will report directly to him. But Karnavian warned that an “extra-judicial body” would be “prone to be politicised” — a possible reference to Islamic parties in the ruling coalition — and said police should remain in charge of all counter-terrorism efforts.

Noor Huda Ismail, a former extremist who now works directly with terrorist prisoners to bring them back into moderate society, said Indonesia had never had a proper deradicalisation plan.

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