Muhammad Toriq wrote to his family that he would be in heaven when they read his farewell note. Instead the 32-year-old cell phone voucher seller turned up at a police station wearing a suicide bomber belt.
“Toriq thought he would go to heaven by killing people.” Indonesia’s anti-terror chief looks firmly at a group of journalists from national media outlets. “Who gave him this ridiculous idea? Who taught him this?.”
Ansyaad Mbai calls Toriq the best example why Indonesia urgently needs to crack down on preachers spreading hatred and schools teaching “a wrong version of Islam”. Toriq and his group were planning to attack police stations and a Buddhist organisation. Police has become the most recent target of Indonesia’s extremists and Buddhists were chosen because of the repression of Muslim Rohingya in mainly Buddhist Myanmar.
“Toriq showed up at heaven’s gate and he was not allowed in. Tell that to the Indonesian people,” Mbai continues to address the journalists. “Terrorists are not allowed into heaven.”
Ansyaad Mbai has warned for many years that radicalisation is rapidly growing in Indonesia. According to his intelligence sources many mosques, schools and universities are “infiltrated” by radical groups. “We have become a hotbed in the region because other countries have adopted strict laws against spreading hatred. Some also have a system of selecting ulamas (religious teachers),” he said during an interview in his well-protected office.
Ten years after 203 people were killed during attacks in Bali the government wants to adopt a national programme of deradicalisation. One of the ideas flagged up is the certification of religious teachers and preachers to filter those spreading hatred and provoking violence. Mbai hopes the highest Muslim council, Majelis Ulema Indonesia (MUI), will set up the screening.
The idea was immediately refuted by MUI. “It’s impossible to have someone issue licenses for religious preachers. We are chosen and recognised by the people,” says chairman Slamet Effendi Yusuf. “This idea is only good to be laughed about.”
The controversy shows exactly the sensitivities in Indonesia when it comes to religious issues. While anti-terror groups say religious leaders have an important role in stopping the spread of radicalisation, religious groups say it is purely a law enforcement issue.
“The government should be more firm. Schools that clearly have links with those involved in bombings should be closed down,” says Effendi Yusuf. “Don’t try to use us religious teachers as an instrument to do your job.”
It is feared that without the support of the ulamas Indonesia will have a hard nut to crack. Although most of the religious preachers have adopted a moderate version of Islam and they condemn the spread of hatred and violence, they hardly speak out against it in public.
The reason is that only 12 years ago Indonesia came out of an authoritarian regime that strongly controlled religious preachers in the country. The government prohibited religious sermons that could threaten the Indonesian union state, which could mean many things in those days. Often radical clerics were jailed for many years, went into hiding or fled to Malaysia.
Since the country has adopted democracy including freedom of speech, prohibiting anyone to speak out has become a sensitive issue. Although this does not seem to count for independence activists in Ambon and Papua, in eastern Indonesia. They are jailed for many years only for their statements or simply for showing the independence flag.
Still Mbai believes he can convince the ulamas to participate in the deradicalisation drive. “I just want to challenge them. Who will be able to deradicalise Abu Bakar Bashir for example,” he says referring to the jailed leader of Jemaah Islamiyah, the group responsible for most of the bombings. “If someone is brave enough to talk to him and tell him he is wrong, then we are making great progress.”
In his farewell letter Toriq had asked his wife to bring up their son as a mujahideen, a Muslim fighter. One of the main reasons he cancelled his suicide mission is said to be that he thought about his son. According to Mbai this shows that Indonesia is dealing with a new breed of extremists than the more hardlline older generation. “But it doesn’t mean they are less dangerous.”