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Indonesia school launchpad for ‘IS’ child fighters in Syria

2 Indonesians rescued from captors

SUKAJAYA, Indonesia, Sept 7 (Agencies): Hatf Saiful Rasul was 11 years old when he told his father, a convicted Islamic militant, that he wanted to leave school and go to Syria to fight for Islamic State. The boy was visiting his father in a maximum security prison during a break from Ibnu Mas’ud, his Islamic boarding school, Syaiful Anam said in a 12,000 word essay on his son and religion that was published online. “At first, I did not respond and considered it just a child’s joke,” he wrote.

“But it became different when Hatf stated his willingness over and over.” Hatf told his father some of his friends and teachers from Ibnu Mas’ud had gone to fight for Islamic State and “become martyrs there”, Anam wrote. Anam agreed to let him go, noting in his essay that the school was managed by “comrades who share our ideology”.

Hatf travelled to Syria with a group of relatives in 2015, joining a group of French fighters. Reuters spoke to three Indonesian counter-terrorism offi- cials who confirmed the boy went to Syria. Indonesia is the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country and most of its people practice a moderate form of Islam. But there has been a recent resurgence in militancy and authorities believe Islamic State has more than 1,200 followers in Indonesia while about 500 Indonesians have left to join the group in Syria.

Court
Drawing on court documents, registration filings and interviews with counter-terrorism police and former militants, Reuters has found that Hatf was one of at least 12 people from Ibnu Mas’ud who went to the Middle East to fight for IS or attempted to go there between 2013 and 2016. Eight were teachers, four were students. At least another 18 people linked to the school have been convicted, or are now under arrest, for militant plots and attacks in Indonesia, including the three deadliest attacks in the country in the past 20 months, according to counter-terrorism police and trial documents of convicted militants. Jumadi, a spokesman for Ibnu Mas’ud, denied the school supported IS or any other militant Islamist group, or taught any extreme or ultra-violent interpretation of Islam.

Problem
Asked about the school’s links to militants and why it had not been shut down, Kamaruddin Amin, the director general of Islamic education at Indonesia’s Ministry of Religious Affairs, said: “Ibnu Mas’ud never registered as a pesantren.” Jumadi confirmed the school was not registered with the ministry. The local government, Amin added, “had requested an explanation regarding the status of their study but did not get a response.” Jumadi confirmed recent discussions with local government officials about the school’s teaching. “We have no curriculum,” he said, a reference to the emphasis on teaching the Holy Quran. Jumadi said Hatf studied at Ibnu Mas’ud but he did not know the circumstances of his leaving. He said he was unaware of any staff or students travelling to Syria to join IS, other than three teachers and one student detained in Singapore last year.

Mustanah, a former student deported from Iraq in August, has told police several ex-students from Ibnu Mas’ud had travelled to Syria, two counter-terrorism officials told Reuters. Inside a mosque that forms part of the complex, young boys dressed in Arabic tunics and skull caps could be seen sitting in a circle holding their Holy Qurans, smiling and fidgeting as they waited for their lessons. In a courtyard, young girls were scampering about.

They looked no older than five or six and were wearing headscarves. In a video viewed by Reuters but later taken down from Youtube, principal Masyahadi outlines the institution’s adherence to Salafism, an ultra-conservative brand of Sunni Islam that urges followers to emulate the lives of the earliest disciples of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) and embrace sharia law. Asked if fighting for the religion included taking up arms, Jumadi, the spokesman, said “it would need further discussion to answer that question” before declining to elaborate further. According to documents presented in court, Ibnu Mas’ud was founded in 2007 in Depok, a Jakarta satellite town, by Aman Abdurrahman, a jailed cleric and Indonesia’s leading Islamist ideologue.

The deed of establishment of the foundation that runs Ibnu Mas’ud lists three people among its executives who were jailed with Abdurrahman for setting up a militant training base in the Indonesian province of Aceh in 2009. Sofyan Tsauri, a former militant who said he has made donations to the school, told Reuters Ibnu Mas’ud “was for the children of Ikhwan (Islamic fighters)” to study while also serving as the hub of safehouses for Islamist fugitives.

Resort
Dulmatin, who had a $10 million bounty on his head for taking part in a 2002 bombing on the Indonesian resort island of Bali in which 202 people were killed, prayed at Ibnu Mas’ud while he was on the run, according to court documents related to the Aceh trials of Abdurrahman and the three foundation executives. Dulmatin was killed by police in 2010. After the trials, Ibnu Mas’ud moved from Depok in 2010 but it ran into problems at its current location as well when a teacher tried to set fire to bunting celebrating Indonesia’s independence day on August 17.

The incident was confirmed by police and local villagers. People in the area were already suspicious about activities at the school, village chief Wahyudin Sumardi said. After complaints by villagers, local authorities have asked Ibnu Mas’ud to leave by September 17, but Jumadi said this week that the school was negotiating to stay.

The school may look for a new location if forced to move, he said. Pesantren have deep roots in Indonesia, harking back centuries, when they were the main form of education for most poor and rural people. Even as Indonesia’s education system modernised and state-run secular schools were introduced, the overwhelmingly private Islamic boarding schools remain important. Amin, at Indonesia’s Ministry of Religious Affairs, told Reuters in July that the ministry was working on a new policy to standardise the curriculum in pesantren and assume control of their approval. No policies have yet been announced. Anam, Hatf’s father, told Reuters in handwritten comments in response to questions during a court hearing in Jakarta in July that he was proud of his son.

2 Indonesian freed: Two Indonesian sailors abducted by Islamist militants off the southern Philippines walked free on Thursday after a firefight that left five kidnappers dead, the military said. The sailors were kidnapped nine months ago in Malaysian waters and taken to the remote southern Philippine island of Jolo, a stronghold of the suspects from the Abu Sayyaf group, Islamist militants engaged mainly in kidnappings for ransom. Their ordeal ended when they turned up at a military checkpoint on Jolo shortly after Philippine troops clashed with their suspected kidnappers in a nearby town, the local military chief said. Police named the sailors as Sarapuddin Koni and Sawal Maryam Ivo. Both are natives of Indonesia’s Sulawesi island, south of the Philippines.

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