A man whose brother died while carrying out a suicide attack is now running an unlikely de-radicalisation program from a cafe in Java, Indonesia.
Luke Waters reports from Yogjakarta.
In the world’s most populous Islamic nation, religiously-motivated violent extremism remains a significant problem, particularly among young men.
Hundreds of IS-linked terrorists are believed to have returned to Indonesia in the past year – with hundreds more currently said to be attempting to flee the Middle East.
It makes de-radicalisation is as important as ever, and while the government is doing its bit, fledgling independent programs are also showing signs of success.
For three days every week, Ahmad Azhar and Salman Al Faluty wait tables at an unremarkable-looking cafe in bustling Yogjakarta, a city on the island of Java, often called Jogja. Both staff members are reformed terrorists, having spent several years in prison for their crimes.The café, named Gandroeng, meaning “more than love”, is not far from the city’s Islamic University, and doubles as a de-radicalisation program.
In 2012, Azhar, 28, tried to make a bomb after researching instructions on the internet. The intended target was the US Embassy in Jakarta, but the plot, linked to militant extremist group Jemaah Islamiyah, was foiled by authorities.
“The bomb wasn’t about the amount of damage caused,” he told SBS News through an interpreter. “Rather, the objective of the bomb was to create chaos and terror.”
The objective of the bomb was to create chaos and terror.
- Ahmad Azhar
Azhar spent five years in so-called “super-max” – the maximum security jail on Java’s notorious prison Island Nusa Kambangan.
His co-worker Al Faluty was jailed for engaging in military-style training with Indonesia’s main terror group Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD). Before his arrest, the now-30-year-old intended to head to the battlefields of Syria and Iraq.
Instead, both men are learning hospitality and business skills at the cafe, which opened in 2015.
The program was established by Muhammad In’am. His own brother, Mukhollad, was radicalised and died aged 18 after being persuaded to act as a suicide bomber in Aleppo, Syria in 2012. The bombing also claimed the lives of dozens of civilians.
The incident inspired his older brother to establish the de-radicalisation program, part of which involves a fresh interpretation of religion.
“I tell the ex-terrorists that the real Jihad is to keep the peace of the world, to take care of family and not to make a war,” Mr In’am said.
“It is hard to influence the person through his mind – we have to treat him as a human being and touch his heart,” he said.
We have to treat him as a human being and touch his heart.
- Muhammad In’am
Associate Professor Muhammad Wildan from Yogjakarta’s Islamic University assists Mr In’am with aspects of the program.
He says the re-education process is made far more difficult with a prevailing lack of religious and social media literacy, as many vulnerable young men simply accept and believe what they see and read online.
“Once a certain verses of Koran being twisted by radical … and then it is posted in social media and many people will believe ‘yes, this is right, this is against the belief of Islam, the other group is infidel, the other group is non-Muslim’,” he said.
Associate Professor Wildan has interviewed terrorists in prisons across Indonesia and says a lack of employment prospects and practical skills training are significant contributors to radicalisation.
“Such treatment to the terrorists in jail, not only dealing with ideology but dealing with psychological things, also how to integrate into society, to give them more skill to work or to run small business, I think … must go together,” he said.
The café’s success is difficult to measure, but Al-Faluty believes it is having an impact.
“I started to reconsider my way of thinking from being hard-line to being more tolerant,” he said.
Azhar says the lessons learnt have changed his perspective on religion and life.
“Now, I feel peace, I don’t want to have violence as a means. I want to spread non-violent Islam through peaceful means,” he said.