Accountability in the War on Terror
Without accountability, the police will lose public trust. People will suspect that the war on terror is being used to distract attention from other issues.
AFTER two terror attacks in the last week, a question has arisen: why did we let this happen?
A husband and wife blew themselves up in front of the Catholic Cathedral in Makassar on Sunday, March 28. At least 20 people were hurt as a result of this suicide bomb attack. Three days later, 25-year-old woman fired shots from an air gun at the National Police Headquarters building in Kebayoran, South Jakarta. Nobody was injured, and the woman was shot dead by police.
These two terror attacks were the first such incidents since the bombings in East Java in May 2018 when bombs exploded in quick succession at three churches, a police station and a public housing block in Surabaya and Sidoarjo. At least 18 people were killed in those attacks.
After that everything went quiet. It was as if we had forgotten about terrorism.
The police say they were not sleeping. In 2020, they arrested hundreds of people—mostly in connection with membership of Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD), an organization affiliated with Islamic state. In January this year, South Sulawesi police arrested 20 people they said were members of JAD.
After the end of the Jamaah Islamiyah era, now JAD is said to be the organization responsible for a number of acts of terrorism in Indonesia. Unlike Jamaah Islamiyah, which used ‘senior’ militants in its attacks—as seen from the fact that these people had been involved in the group for many years before becoming suicide bombers—JAD uses newcomers recruited instantly, including through social media. JAD also often uses local people for local attacks. Therefore, the number of their sympathizers can increase quickly. In Indonesia, it is estimated that there are around 20,000 JAD members and sympathizers, three times more than the membership of Jamaah Islamiyah.
In Makassar, three months before the attack, the Special Detachment (Densus) 88 counterterrorism unit raided a house in the Villa Mutiara housing complex. Two JAD leaders, Muhammad Rizaldy and his son-in-law, Sanjay Ajiz, were shot dead. There are signs that the house had been used for the indoctrination of the people who bombed the church in Makassar. The two bombers were even believed to have married there. Despite this, both of them slipped under the police radar.
Everybody knows that anti-terror operations are secret. But this does not mean that they can go ahead without any controls and supervision. Eradication of terror is not a blank check given by the public to the police. The security forces do not have limitless powers.
Without accountability, we do not know which operations have succeeded and which have failed. And neither does the public understand if operations to prevent terrorism are carried out in line with the proper procedures or not. Furthermore, no one can be sure if these operations are conducted in the interests of security or if they are only machinations by a small number of police officers carried out for their own short-term interests.
Take the example of Siyono. In March 2016, police arrested the resident of Klaten, Central Java, and accused him of being involved with Jamaah Islamiyah. Subsequently he was reported to have died. The then National Police Chief, General Badrodin Haiti, said Siyono had died after struggling with Densus 88 personnel in the vehicle in which he was being transported. However, an autopsy carried out by the National Commission on Human Rights and the central leadership of Muhammadiyah reached a very different conclusion. Two years later, this magazine revealed how Siyono had been detained and then beaten to death by five police officers. This case has never been investigated.
If it is not prepared to reform, the police will lose public trust. People will suspect that the war on terror is being conducted to distract attention: the tough stance of security forces will lead people to suspect that they are not telling the truth. However, without public support, the war on terror will not succeed.
We must not forget that the majority of victims of terrorism are members of the public. Terrorism makes people feel afraid and unsafe and limits their freedom of movement. Economic stagnation and mutual suspicion have a bad impact on the public. Therefore, the conduct of all anti-terror operations must be held to account by the people’s representatives.
This could start by positioning the House of Representatives (DPR) not only as the partner of the police when approving the budget, but also as a place where law enforcers are asked to account for their actions. If they are deemed sensitive, explanations by police officers to the DPR on anti-terror operations could take place behind closed doors.
Strict oversight and evaluation will help ensure the effectiveness of the program to eradicate terrorism. Without fundamental changes, there will be more terror attacks. After that, every time a bomb explodes, we will ask again: why did we let this happen?