Indonesian Jihadis Prepare for Gaza Intervention

Andrew McGregor

January 21, 2009

Israel’s assault on Gaza has brought widespread condemnation from the Muslim world, though no Muslim nation has dared intervene so far. In many cases this official position is at variance with popular sentiments, as in distant Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim nation.

FPI SupportersFront Pembela Islam Supporters

With no Israeli embassy in Jakarta (the two nations have no diplomatic relations) and no Jewish population to speak off, Indonesian anger at the Gaza incursion has at times been hard-pressed to find an avenue for expression. The country’s lone synagogue, a barely used and rabbi-less building in Surabaya, has been the target of angry mobs shouting “Go to hell, Israel” while burning Israeli flags (Antara News Agency [Jakarta], January 8). An unlucky KFC outlet in Central Sulawesi province was overrun by 300 protesters enraged over US support for Israel, who fortunately restricted their violence to the furniture (Xinhua, January 8). Demonstrations have also occurred at Jakarta’s Egyptian and U.S. embassies.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s government will be seeking re-election in April, so it is being forced to address public anger at Israel while preventing non-government players from taking actions that might be outside the national interest. According to President Yudhoyono, “I’ve talked to Middle East leaders, to the Palestinian ambassador to Indonesia, to the UN Resident Coordinator in Indonesia…and [the conclusion is] additional weaponry, bombs, rockets, tanks, or air power are not what the Gazans need” (Jakarta Post, January 17). The government views financial and humanitarian aid as the best way to help the Palestinians of Gaza, though there are many in Indonesia who would prefer to see more material military assistance sent from Indonesia to pursue “jihad” against Israel for its actions in Gaza.

Indonesia’s Armed Forces (Tentara Nasional Indonesia –TNI) already have a peacekeeping unit of 210 soldiers deployed in Lebanon as part of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). TNI chief General Djoko Santoso has indicated Indonesia is ready to contribute to another peacekeeping force in Gaza if required (Antara, January 12).

There are a number of Indonesian Islamist groups seeking government support to send fighters to Gaza, including the Islam Defenders Front (Front Pembela Islam – FPI) and Hizb ut-Tahir Indonesia (HTI). In Bandung, West Java, the FPI is providing physical, military, and mental training to 40 recruits in a factory (Jakarta Post, January 16). In the Jember region of East Java, the organization says it has recruited 60 Muslim youth for front-line service against Israel (Jakarta Post, January 7). The recruits are receiving a brief period of training in the methods of Pencak Silat, a traditional Indonesian martial arts movement strongly associated with anti-colonialism. The FPI claims to have 4,000 volunteers for service in Gaza, but can only afford to send three to five fighters, who will receive a perfunctory ten days of instruction, though weapons training is not part of the curriculum: “We won’t be teaching them how to use weapons. They will have to learn in the field when we dispatch them to Gaza” (AFP, January 8). The Mosque Youth Coordination Body claims to have recruited 3,500 volunteers to either fight or provide humanitarian assistance, though it estimates only half of these will actually go to Gaza (AFP, January 8).

Abu Bakar Bashir’s Jamaah Anshoru Tauhid (JAT) movement expressed hope that Egypt would allow passage of mujahideen and medical teams through Rafah into Gaza (AFP, January 7). Bashir is the former spiritual leader of Indonesia’s notorious Jamaah Islamiyah (JI) terrorist organization.

The Ansor Brigades paramilitary, belonging to Indonesia’s largest Islamic organization, the Nahdlatul Ulama, is also training 78 volunteers for Gaza. Candidates need bring only a letter from their family and a health certificate. All expenses must be handled by the volunteer. Recruits are encouraged to develop spiritual powers that will allow them to fend off Israeli bullets and other weapons. The rival FPI eschews such traditional methods in their own training: “There is no immunity in the FPI. If we learn about such practices, how can we die a martyr?” Military strategy is taught to the Ansor recruits, but no weapons training is offered. The program has not been approved by Nahdlatul Ulama headquarters (Tempo [Jakarta], January 15).


This article first appeared in the January 21, 2009 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Focus

Are Slavic Neo-Pagans Russia’s Latest Terrorist Threat?

Andrew McGregor

January 28, 2009

In recent years Russia has been beset by terrorist activities emanating from familiar sources – ethnic nationalism, radical Islamism, and criminal activity. The latest terrorist threat in Russia, however, may be coming from a completely unexpected direction – Slavic neo-paganism.

ArkonaSlavic Neo-Pagan band Arkona

Earlier this month, the Federal Security Service (Federalnaya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti – FSB) and Interior Ministry police arrested six members of a group accused of bombing railway facilities and an Orthodox church, attacking foreigners, and planning an attack on a McDonald’s restaurant (Interfax, January 19; NTV-MIR [Moscow], January 21). Surprisingly, the young suspects (aged between 17 and 24) were described as belonging to a group that worshipped pre-Christian Slavic deities, part of the Slavic world’s growing Rodnovery (native faith) movement, which regards Christianity as an unwelcome and alien intrusion into Slavic life.

In Russia the movement has reverberated most with young people who grew up in the post-Soviet period and feel no particular attachment to the long-repressed Orthodox Church. Though its origins can be found in 19th century academic works, modern Russian Neo-paganism has tied itself closely to popular youth culture. Typical of the movement’s appeal to youth is the emergence of Arkona, a popular “Slavic pagan metal” band (<wbr></wbr>v=8U07boPwbKw).

The neo-paganists are charged with a number of bombings, including attacks on rail lines near the Tsaricino and Bulatnikovo metro stations (October 5 and November 4, 2008). They are also alleged to have carried out a bombing in an Orthodox church on November 30, 2008, and the January 16 attempted bombing of a McDonald’s restaurant near the Kuzminsi metro station (NTV-MIR, January 21; Moscow Times, January 22).

A Ministry of Sport official was originally detained in connection with the investigation, but was released due to lack of evidence after it appeared bomb-making materials found in his flat belonged to his cousin, an alleged group member (Kommersant, January 21). Yevgenya Zhikhareva, the 17-year-old girl who was alleged to be the group’s leader, was also released because of a lack of evidence (Moscow Times, January 22). The suspects are charged with involvement in the murder of at least ten foreign nationals and a series of bombings over the period 2008-2009. Moscow police chief Vladimir Pronin reported a total of 47 fatal attacks on non-Slavic foreigners in Moscow last year (Moscow Times, January 22).

Since the last traces of Russia’s pre-Christian religion were purged in the medieval period (save those elements that had been absorbed into local Christian folk ritual), the modern movement draws heavily on the literary and artistic legacy of Russia’s 19th century Romantic movement, which focused on the mythology of an heroic pre-Christian era. Many Rodnovers (as followers are termed) use the allegedly ancient Book of Veles as a sacred text, though most scholars regard the work as a modern forgery (the original text, carved on a series of wooden planks, was lost in World War II). Though some Rodnovers are seeking an authentic religious experience, others are attracted to the movement by its association with extremist nationalism. Given the release of two of the suspects so far, it remains to be seen if neo-paganism poses a new security threat to the Russian Federation.

This article first appeared in the January 28, 2009 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Focus

Pakistani Taliban Threaten Israel and Pashtun Nationalists with Suicide Bombers

Andrew McGregor

January 28, 2009

Well-pleased with the local “success” of their suicide bombing campaign, the leaders of Pakistan’s Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) are now threatening to send their suicide bombers against Israeli targets and Pakistan’s Pashtun politicians.

AsfanyarANP Leader Asfandyar Wali Khan

In a telephone interview, TTP leader Baitullah Mahsud expressed his anger at Israel’s devastating incursion into Gaza, promising to avenge the Palestinian Muslims for Israel’s “atrocities” (BBC Urdu, January 18). Saying he would teach Israel an “historic lesson,” Baitullah declared his suicide bombers could strike anywhere in the worlds with God’s help (Daily Times [Lahore], January 18).

Baitullah’s right-hand man, Hakimullah Mahsud, followed up several days later by threatening to send TTP suicide bombers against leaders of the Pashtun-based Awami National Party (ANP) in response to the government’s offensive in the turbulent Swat region: “We have prepared a hit-list of ANP leaders and activists who will be the target of suicide attacks and gunfire. People must avoid meeting ANP leaders and attending their functions” (The News [Islamabad], January 22; Pak Tribune, January 24). Hakimullah, the regional TTP commander for the Khyber, Kurram, and Orakzai tribal agencies, has issued similar threats against the ANP before (The News, November 27, 2008).

Led by Asfandyar Wali Khan, the ANP is a secular/left national political party with a stronghold in the Pashtun-dominated North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) of Pakistan. The ANP was a big winner in last year’s elections, forming the largest party in the NWFP’s ruling coalition and playing a supporting role in the central government coalition in Islamabad (Pakistan Times, February 25, 2008; The Nation [Islamabad], January 9).

Under Asfandyar Wali Khan, the ANP has been a strong opponent of the Taliban, encouraging dialogue with moderate Islamist elements while rejecting Taliban violence. As a result, the movement has been a frequent target of the Taliban, which no doubt feels threatened by the ANP’s electoral success. Press reports of Asfandyar Wali Khan visiting U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) headquarters in Tampa Bay in 2006 and 2008 have not endeared the Awami Party leader to the Taliban (Dawn [Karachi], May 9, 2008). The militants demand that the ANP immediately implement Shari’a (Islamic law) in the NWFP, release all Taliban prisoners, and pay compensation for losses suffered during government offensives in Swat and elsewhere in the frontier region (Pak Tribune, January 24).

This article first appeared in the January 28, 2009 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Focus

Taliban Target Karachi and Peshawar Links in NATO’s Afghanistan Supply-Chain

Andrew McGregor

January 21, 2009

The announcement yesterday by General David Petraeus that the United States had reached agreements with Russia and several Central Asian nations for a new (and costly) U.S.-NATO supply route into Afghanistan came as the struggle for control of the supply routes through Pakistan continues. While Pakistan’s military battles the Taliban to secure the Khyber Pass, a vital route for carrying U.S. and NATO supplies into Afghanistan, there are signs that the Taliban is not only continuing attacks on supply terminals in the North-West Frontier Province city of Peshawar, but now intends to choke off Coalition supplies at their offloading point in the harbor of Karachi. Roughly 75% of Coalition supplies run through Karachi to the Khyber Pass and on into Afghanistan, usually carried by private Pakistani transport contractors.

Khyber supply chain 1NATO’s Fuel Supplies are Frequently Targeted

Following months of reports concerning the infiltration of Taliban militants in the port city of Karachi, Pakistani security forces encountered stiff resistance during a series of raids on Taliban safe-houses in the Sohrab Goth neighborhood of Karachi on January 15 (Dawn [Karachi], January 15). Two security men were killed and seven wounded as 79 suspects and a large number of modern weapons were seized. The militants were alleged to have been warning transportation firms not to take on loads destined for Coalition forces in Afghanistan. The suspects allegedly included members of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and the banned Lashkar-e-Jhagvi. An Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) team and a detachment of the Anti-Violent Crime Unit (ACVU) participated in the raids as part of their search for a kidnapped Iranian commercial attaché. Over 100 mobile units of the police and the Sindh Rangers, a Karachi-based Interior Ministry paramilitary, also participated in the raids (Daily Times [Lahore], January 16). According to Karachi police chief Wasim Ahmed, the suspects were “planning massive terrorist activities in the city” (Press Trust of India, January 16). Residents of the neighborhood described the suspects as innocent men who worked as mechanics and laborers (Daily Times, January 16).

Khyber Supply chain 2 MapTTP spokesman Maulvi Omar boasted of the Taliban presence in Karachi last summer:

We are very strong in Karachi; our network could come in action once the central Amir of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan [Baitullah Mahsud] ordered the Taliban for action. We want to help improve law and order and maintain peace in Karachi. The Taliban could surface in Karachi if foreign hands do not stop interfering in the city… We are capable of capturing any city of the country at any given time (Pakistan Press International, August 6, 2008; Daily Times, August 10, 2008).

At the other end of the supply route in the north-west frontier region, NATO supply terminals were left largely unguarded earlier this month when Frontier Corps paramilitary troops were withdrawn from the ring road where the terminals are located for duty in Peshawar. Taliban militants took advantage of the lack of security to fire six rockets into the Faisal and Khyber Ittifaq terminals in Peshawar, destroying a total of six containers. The attackers fled without known casualties after a short fire-fight with the remaining security personnel (Daily Times, January 13). The attacks were the first in Peshawar since a series of strikes in December killed three people and destroyed massive quantities of military equipment awaiting shipment through the Khyber Pass. The supply terminals consist largely of open fields and have no special defenses.

Khyber supply chain 3Vulnerable NATO Supply Terminal

After the attack, Peshawar police began joint patrols with troopers from the Frontier Corps paramilitary, including checks on pedestrians and passing vehicles (Geo TV, January 14). A new security plan has been devised for protecting the 14 terminals on the Peshawar ring road. Over the next few weeks the United States is scheduled to supply Pakistan’s Frontier Police with large quantities of non-lethal security and transportation equipment (The News [Islamabad], January 15). There are continuing reports that locally contracted owners of oil tankers are heeding the warnings from the Taliban while meeting their own needs by setting fire to their trucks to collect insurance provided by foreign companies (Daily Afghanistan, December 14, 2008). Other companies hauling supplies along the 30-mile highway between Peshawar and Torkham are beginning to decline loads, citing the risk to their drivers (AFP, December 31, 2008).

The supply route through the Khyber Pass was shut down on January 13 as Pakistani military forces expanded a two-week-old offensive against Taliban militants in the Landi Kotal and Jamrud subdivisions of the Khyber Tribal Agency. With the border post at Torkham closed, as well as the entire highway between Torkham and Peshawar, Pakistani troops searched for Taliban hideouts and demolished homes believed to shelter Taliban fighters (AFP, January 13). It was the second time this month the Peshawar-Torkham highway has been closed for security purposes.

A secondary supply route through southwest Pakistan 375 miles south of the Khyber Pass has only just been reopened after tribesmen built road-blocks to protest the killing of a local man in a drug raid. The route runs from Quetta (believed to be the home of the Afghan Taliban’s top leadership) to the border point at Spin Boldak. The blockade in the town of Qila Abdullah left hundreds of trucks stranded along the road for five days until government officials negotiated a removal of the blockade. The road was immediately closed again due to snow (AFP, January 14).


This article first appeared in the January 21, 2009 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Focus

New Chief of Pakistan’s ISI Defends Taliban’s Right to Jihad

Andrew McGregor

January 21, 2009

In a recent interview with Germany’s Der Spiegel, Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) Director-General, Lieutenant-General Ahmad Shuja Pasha, gave a rather startling reply when asked about the reluctance of Pakistan’s military to apprehend senior Taliban leaders based in Quetta and elsewhere in Pakistan: “Shouldn’t they be allowed to think and say what they please? They believe that jihad is their obligation. Isn’t that freedom of opinion?” (Der Spiegel, January 6).

Ahmad ShujaLieutenant-General Ahmad Shuja Pasha (Express Tribune)

The remark was undoubtedly of concern to U.S. counter-terrorism officials, who view the ISI with deep suspicion and have had only limited success in encouraging Pakistan’s military to engage Taliban and al-Qaeda forces in Pakistan’s north-west frontier region. General Pasha directed military operations in that region from 2005 until his appointment as ISI commander on September 29, 2008.

Pakistan’s military later downplayed the ISI chief’s remarks through the armed forces’ Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), which claimed that “important issues have been reported out of context or have been incorrectly constructed as a result of mistranslation… Some of the things reported are either incongruous or have not been clearly stated.” ISPR added that the general’s “views on the handling of al-Qaeda and other terrorists have been incorrectly reported” (NDTV [New Delhi], January 7; Daily Times [Lahore], January 10). ISPR claims of mistranslation may be a reach – Der Spiegel noted that the interview was conducted in English and in the General’s “surprisingly accent-free German,” learned while taking officer training in Germany during the 1980s.

The leader of the opposition in Pakistan’s National Assembly, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan (leader of the Pakistan Muslim League (N)), said the ISI chief should not be giving media interviews and described his remarks as “out of place” (Daily Times, January 13).

General Pasha denied that he and Armed Forces commander Ashfaq Pervez Kayani discussed U.S. drone attacks on Taliban and al-Qaeda suspects on Pakistani territory during a meeting with U.S. officials held on the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier last August: “We never discussed that, nor did we agree to it… But to be honest, what can we do against the drone attacks? Should we fight the Americans or attack an Afghan post, because that’s where the drones are coming from? Can we win this? Does it benefit Pakistan?”

In another recent Spiegel interview, the head of Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security (NDS – domestic intelligence), Amrullah Saleh, noted, “When the Americans offered to fight the [Taliban/al-Qaeda] fighters themselves, the Pakistanis rejected them, saying you can’t go in, we are a sovereign state. The true reason behind this is that Islamabad is providing the militant groups with ammunition and training” (Der Spiegel, December 8, 2008).

The ISI director also stated that he reports “regularly to the president [Asif Ali Zardari] and take orders from him.” The problem is that ISI is supposed to report to the Prime Minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani (Dawn [Karachi], July 27, 2008; BBC, July 28, 2008). Prime Minister Gilani was forced to drop plans to transfer control of the ISI to the Interior Ministry last summer after objections from Armed Forces commander Ashfaq Pervez Kayani and the General Staff (The Nation [Islamabad], July 27, 2008; Times of India, August 6, 2008; BBC, July 28, 2008). Pasha was appointed head of the ISI by General Kayani last September, despite efforts by the Prime Minister to assume control of the appointment process.

During the Spiegel interview, Lt.-Gen. Pasha suggested a war with India over the Mumbai incident was unlikely: “We may be crazy in Pakistan, but not completely out of our minds. We know full well that terror is our enemy, not India.”

This article first appeared in the January 21, 2009 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Focus

Spanish Prison Manual Offers Tips for Spotting Jihadis

Andrew McGregor

January 15, 2009

Madrid2004 Madrid Train Bombing

Spanish Corrections officials continue to try to deal with the growing radicalization of Muslim prisoners. A new 89-page manual marked “confidential” provides guards and officials with a guide to the radicalization process, giving tips on what to watch for in dress, language, and behavior that might indicate a prisoner’s adoption of radical Islam, political extremism, or jihadist violence (El Mundo [Madrid], December 30, 2008). The manual offers the following advice:

  • Officials must be familiar with the prisoner’s background in terms of family involvement in Islamist activities or the prisoner’s own experience with jihad operations.

    • If a scar is found on the prisoner during a frisking procedure and the guard suspects it was the result of a wound inflicted in Bosnia, Chechnya, or Afghanistan, it must be photographed and passed on to the warden.

    • If a cell is papered with holy texts, it must be photographed and the warden notified.

    • Guards must watch for newspapers or journals published by extremist organizations. Oddly, the manual singles out Gara, a bilingual Basque/Spanish newspaper published in San Sebastián. While the paper might appeal to imprisoned members of the Basque ETA terrorist group, it is unlikely to appeal to would-be jihadis, few, if any, of whom might be expected to read Basque.

    • Careful watch should be kept of prisoners who go from no prayers to praying five times a day. Whispering the sura-s of the Koran while working or reciting the Tasbih (short phrases glorifying God) on the Muslim rosary are also suspicious behavior.

    • Other suspicious activities include refusing to shake hands with female social workers and listening to Islamic audio recordings instead of music.

    • Physical signs to watch for include the prisoner’s eyes no longer being red as a result of smoking hashish, the growing of beards, shaving of the head or the complete body, careful cutting of the nails, or the appearance of a prayer scar or callus (zabiba – raisin) on the forehead as a result of bumping the head on the ground while prostrating during prayer.

The manual also includes a glossary of Islam-related words and phrases as well as a complete listing of radical Islamist publications. Authorities are warned prisoners may use what the intelligence community refers to as “idiot codes,” which rely on a pre-arranged agreement on the secret meaning of certain words or phrases. Despite the name, such codes are virtually unbreakable unless the users persist in using the same words or phrases over an extended period.

Islamic radicalism is a growing problem in Spain’s generally liberal prison system. There are an estimated 7,000 to 8,000 Muslim prisoners in Spain, though only a small percentage of these could be classified as Islamist extremists. The great fear is that the prison environment lends itself to recruitment activities by jihadist leaders. After a prayer leader is selected for a cell block, other prisoners may begin to enforce Islamic rules among Muslims in the block. In 2004, 110 extremists turned a lecture hall into a mosque without permission. The loud call to prayer angered non-Muslim prisoners, but authorities only requested the Muslims to keep the noise down (El Mundo, September 9, 2004). In the same year, a prison-based group known as the “Martyrs of Morocco” devised a plot to ram a truck carrying 1,000 pounds of explosives into Madrid’s National Court building, where the judges and trial-records of the March 2004 Madrid train-bombers were located. Bomb-making formulas were found in cells as well as extensive jihadi correspondence between prisoners that escaped scrutiny because of a shortage of Arabic translators in the corrections service (Los Angeles Times, December 24, 2007).

Spanish prisons have attempted to accommodate Muslim prisoners by allowing them to pray in congregations and rescheduling meal-times to accommodate Ramadan observances. In 2006, the Islamic Commission of Spain arranged for approved imam-s (prayer-leaders) to try to persuade Muslim prisoners to avoid radicalization (La Vanguardia [Barcelona], July 31, 2006).

This article first appeared in the January 15, 2009 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Focus

Kenyan al-Qaeda Leaders Killed in Waziristan Missile Strike

Andrew McGregor

January 15, 2009

Two Kenyan nationals were among those killed in a New Year’s Day missile strike on a house in Pakistan’s South Waziristan tribal agency. Although the strike occurred on January 1, the identities of those killed were not confirmed until January 9. Although U.S. officials do not comment officially on missile attacks in the Frontier region of Pakistan, it is believed the attack was carried out by a Hellfire missile launched from a CIA Predator unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) (Daily Nation, Nairobi, January 9; Daily Times [Lahore], January 10; al-Jazeera, January 9).

Kenyans 1Osama al-Kini (a.k.a. Fahid Muhammad Ali Msalam)

The two Kenyans are believed to have been associated with al-Qaeda since the mid-1990s. Osama al-Kini (a.k.a. Fahid Muhammad Ali Msalam) was wanted in connection with numerous bombings in Pakistan, including the 2008 Danish Embassy suicide attack and the September 20, 2008, bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad. Al-Kini was also a suspect in a foiled attempt to assassinate former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto (Daily Nation, January 9).

Kenyans 2Shaykh Ahmad Salim Swedan

Both Mombasa native al-Kini and his Kenyan lieutenant, Shaykh Ahmad Salim Swedan, were wanted for their roles in the deadly 1998 attacks on U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar-es-Salaam and had five-million dollar bounties on their heads. According to a Kenyan security official, “Kini received money from al-Qaeda to run the East African cells. He was a logistician for the terrorists in this region before he went to Pakistan” (The Standard [Nairobi], January 11). Al-Kini first trained in Afghanistan in 1994 before returning to Kenya. Following the embassy bombings he fled to Pakistan. After becoming head of al-Qaeda operations in the Zabul province of Afghanistan in late 2001, al-Kini rose to become al-Qaeda’s operations chief for Pakistan.

Shaykh Ahmad Salim Swedan also fled Kenya after the embassy bombings but sneaked back to carry out the Kikamabala bombing in 2002 before fleeing again to Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province.

The strike took place in the village of Karikot, where seven suspected militants from Punjab province were killed in a pair of missile strikes on December 21, 2008. The area is dominated by Ahmadzai Wazir fighters led by Maulvi Nazir, an opponent of Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mahsud (The Nation [Islamabad], December 23).

This article first appeared in the January 15, 2009 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Focus