Saturday, 8 January 2005

A Truce with Al Qaeda

Or rather, one of their tentacles.

Cross-posted from The Command Post :

From the Sydney Morning Herald :
Radical Islamic groups best known for smashing bars and violent support of the jailed cleric Abu Bakar Bashir have sent large contingents of their members to Aceh with funding provided by the Indonesian Government.

At Banda Aceh's airport, trucks with supplies to be ferried to disaster-struck areas by US Navy helicopters have been unloaded by members of Bashir's group, the MMI, including one man proudly wearing an Osama bin Laden T-shirt.

Members of the FPI (Islamic Defenders Front), famous for its attacks on nightspots in Jakarta, are now living in Banda Aceh in tents provided by the army and the Ministry of Social Affairs.

The head of the FPI contingent, Hilmy Bakar Almascaty, said about 250 members had come to Aceh with tickets provided by the Government; 800 more on board an Indonesian warship would help clean up the devastated province.

"FPI is not only an organisation that destroys bars and discos, it has a humanitarian side as well that the media is not happy to expose," Dr Almascaty said.

Early yesterday 50 of his troops wearing FPI shirts went through a series of military drills before heading off to the city to help collect corpses still not recovered from the millions of tonnes of rubble.

Dr Almascaty said his group had held discussions with the head of the army, General Ryamizard Ryacudu, the Defence Minister, Juwono Sudarsono and the Vice-President, Jusuf Kalla, and had come to Aceh with the full backing of the Government.

He said his members were in Aceh to help, although the army in the past has often been accused of using Islamic groups to fight its battles, especially in divided communities like Aceh.

Dr Almascaty agreed that, as well as helping gather corpses and clean up mosques, the FPI had come to play another role.

He said he was determined to ensure the arrival of foreign soldiers and aid workers did not lead to a breakdown in the system of syariah, or Islamic law, which has been in nominal operation in Aceh for several years.
"Nominal" is the keyword here, rather than "actual". It's never actually been practiced by the majority.
"If anyone who comes here does not respect the syariah law, traditions and constitution, we must give them a warning and then we must attack," he said.

Dr Almascaty said his group was co-ordinating with MMI and with another hardline group banned in many countries, Hizbut Tharir, in a plan to curtail Western influence.
The head of the MMI contingent, Salman al Furizi, said his group of 50 young men from central Java had flown to Banda Aceh on a military aircraft. He was prepared to put aside his vehement opposition to the US because of the help it was providing.

"We have to understand this is a disaster, so we are not talking about other problems," he said.

Dr Almascaty also welcomed the Americans and other traditional enemies of his group. "At the moment they have come as an angel," he said. "We don't know about tomorrow."
I can assure Dr Almascaty that in view of his words, in Australia the feeling is entirely mutual.

From The Australian :
Indonesia has promised Australia it will boost security in the war-torn province of Aceh amid fears aid workers at the centre of the world's tsunami humanitarian mission may be caught in the crossfire of the separatist struggle.

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said yesterday there would be growing concerns for safety in the coming months as Australians helped rebuild the devastated western Sumatran coast.

Fuelling the volatility of the region, fundamental Islamic activists are also flooding into the region in a bid to guard against what they regard as dangerous Western influences.
Indonesian sources say the chief concerns for the safety of aid workers and unarmed defence personnel are Free Aceh Movement (GAM) separatists looking for publicity, criminal gangs attached to GAM, and Islamic fundamentalists concerned about the influx of Westerners. One hardline Islamic group took aim yesterday at an Australian Catholic charity, Father Chris Riley's Youth off the Streets, planning to set up an orphanage in tsunami-ravaged Aceh, warning it not to try to convert Muslim children.

Chief of the radical Islamic Defenders Front, Hilmy Bakar Almascaty, warned the group to stick purely to humanitarian work in Aceh -- the only Indonesian province to have fully implemented Muslim sharia law.

Mr Downer said while it was "political suicide" for Islamist militants to attack now, there would be concerns for Australians as the program dragged on. "The assessments of our agencies is that it is very unlikely that Islamists groups would commit acts of violence against people providing humanitarian aid simply because it would be an act which would be enormously unpopular in Indonesia, would set their cause back a very long way, even if it was some sort of an attack on foreigners," he said.
Almost as unpopular as the attack on Bali. And more so than 9/11, the Jakarta Hyatt and Embassy bombings. Oh wait, they did those anyway...
Michel Brugiere, director of Medecins du Monde, or Doctors of the World, said that "given the context of the area where we are operating, we have very strict security measures in place". He said: "Our teams are told that they should not fly in American army helicopters, since we're concerned that they could be a particular target."
Actions speak louder than words. We'll see if Al Qaeda, er, Jamayah Islamiyah, er, the FPI and MMI's deeds match their words.

It should be no surprise that Indonesian military resources have been put at these groups' disposal. The Indonesian Government, and the Indonesian Military, are not monolithic organisations, each is composed of power blocks : more a loose confederacy of power bases controlled by different ruling families. Some back the West. Some don't. Aceh has been in practice a fiefdom of one of those that don't. So was East Timor until comparatively recently. The central government has little say in where various units of the Indonesian Military go, and what they do when they get there.

*Sigh* once more.

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