Jemaah Islamiyah (JI)

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Jemaah Islamiyah (JI)

LEADER: Riduan Isamuddin

USUAL AREA OF OPERATION: Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, Singapore; and Pakistan

U.S. TERRORIST EXCLUSION LIST DESIGNEE: The U.S. Department of State declared JI to be a terrorist organization in October 2002


Jemaah Islamiyah (JI; translation, Islamic Organization) is a militant Islamic separatist movement dedicated to the establishment of a fundamentalist Islamic state in Southeast Asia. Its influence sweeps across the region, although many of its activities have been centered in Indonesia, the most notorious of which was the night club bombing on the island of Bali in October 2002.


The origins of Jemaah Islamiyah lie in the aftermath of Indonesia's successful guerilla struggle against Dutch colonists in the 1940s. A conservative strain of Islam emerged during the uprising, named Darul, which propagated the creation of an Islamic state in Southeast Asia. A Darul rebellion broke out in parts of West Java and Aceh in 1948, lasting up to fourteen years in some parts. Darul insurgents—who were often only following the instructions of village elders as opposed to set ideological goals—were ruthlessly suppressed by the dictatorships of President Sukarno and later President Suharto.

Subsequently, radicals existed in exile or underground. In 1969, a renewed attempt to spread the influence of Darul emerged under the leadership of two Javanese clerics, Abu Bakar Bashir and Abdullah Sungkar. They set up a religious school near the city of Solo and a radio station to spread their beliefs, but were repeatedly imprisoned by Suharto and forced into semi-exile in Malaysia. By the early 1980s, their small group of followers had become known as Jemaah Islamiyah (JI).

At this stage, however, JI was barely active outside its religious schools and other such affiliated institutions, and could scarcely be recognized as a formal political entity. Nevertheless, Bashir and Sungkar were building a solid base of followers. Because of the crackdowns of the Suharto government, it was sometimes necessary for them to continue seeking exile not just in Malaysia, but also in Afghanistan, where hundreds of JI followers joined the mujahideen's (fighters) war against the USSR throughout the 1980s.

All senior members—more than 200 of them—of JI's current central command trained and fought in Afghanistan. Following the end of the Afghan conflict, in the mid-1990s, the Afghanistan veterans became trainers of a new generation of mujahideen when they set up a camp in Mindanao, the second largest island in the Philippines. This was in cooperation with the Philippine-based Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which trained other JI members, plus other unaffiliated Islamic militants from Indonesia, an array of guerilla skills.

The Mindanao camp was well organized and offered a variety of training programs. These included a three-year program for new instructors and six months for regular cadets, as well as programs lasting for one year for non-JI instructors and for four months for non-JI cadets. At both levels, they encompassed both military (weapons training, bombing, map reading, guerilla training, etc.) and religious (Islamic law, traditions of the prophet, aqidah [faith], jihad [holy war], etc.) elements.

Afghanistan had further served to radicalize followers of JI, none more so than Riduan Isamuddin, currently known as Hambali. Reports have linked him to Bashir's religious school while he was a teenager; but his involvement with JI has also been dated back to a period when he lived in exile in Malaysia (c.1985–1987), or the period he spent fighting with mujahideen in Afghanistan in the late 1980s. He returned to Malaysia in 1990, setting up an import company that served as a conduit for al-Qaeda funds into Southeast Asia. Here, he was closely involved with the World Trade Center bomber, Ramzi Youseff, and his uncle, Khalid Sheik Mohammed, who between them concocted a variety of plots, including the assassinations of Pope John Paul and President Clinton when each visited Manila, and most audaciously, Operation Bojinka, a plot to blow up a dozen passenger jets flying between the United States and Asia. According to the 9/11 Commission Report, other conspiracies included, "conventional car bombing, political assassination, aircraft bombing, hijacking, reservoir poisoning, and, ultimately, the use of aircraft as missiles guided by suicide operatives."

Quite where JI fit into this scheme of intrigue is unclear. Certainly, Hambali emerged as its leader of political and military operations in the mid-1990s, but whether plots like Bojinka were to be carried out in JI's name remain to be seen. JI never claimed any responsibility for any of the successful Islamist attacks in Malaysia and the Philippines at that time.

In 1998, Suharto was overthrown and JI followers started to return to Indonesia. Hambali is believed to have returned in October 2000. Around Christmas that year, JI carried out its first significant attack when a series of bombs went off in Indonesian cities, many in churches; eighteen people died in the attacks.

Around the same time, Indonesia's Moluccan Islands were undergoing a violent civil insurgency instigated by Islamic insurgents seeking to create a religious state. The conflict was characterized by forced Islamicizations, attacks on Christian churches, and murders. When Molucca's Christian population formed into militias, full-scale civil insurgency broke out with between 5,000 and 20,000 deaths occurring. JI was strongly linked to the three main Islamist groups in the conflict and may have also sent over reinforcements.

This was, in many respects, a "secret war," although Western analysts and particularly the Indonesian government remained fearful that it could bubble over across the archipelago and beyond. In late 2001, police in Singapore arrested thirteen men that it claimed were plotting a huge bombing campaign and were in the process of assembling twenty-one tons of explosives. JI's military chief, Hambali, was said to be behind the plot.

Concern about Islamic militancy in Indonesia soon became worldwide, following devastating attacks in the resort of Kuta on the island of Bali in October 2002. A small, crude suicide device went off in a bar, and as the panicstricken and injured victims ran outside into the street, a second 1,000-kg bomb packed into the back of a van detonated, killing many more. The eventual death toll stood at 202, and included eighty-eight Australians, thirty-eight Indonesians, twenty-six Britons, and seven Americans. Simultaneously, a third bomb detonated outside the U.S. Consulate in Denpasar, Bali's capital, but caused minimal damage and no injuries.

A swift crackdown followed the Bali attacks, but Indonesia's security forces found JI's tightly knit ranks difficult to infiltrate. The price paid for that helplessness in the face of terror came on August 5, 2003, when a car bomb exploded in front of the Marriott Hotel in Jakarta, killing twelve and wounding some 150. In this case, the majority killed were Indonesians.



Described by Time magazine as "Asia's Own Osama," Riduan Isamuddin (known as Hambali) was the brains behind JI's bombing campaigns, and also linked to an array of ambitious terrorist plots in the mid-1990s. He is, wrote Time in April 2002, "a formidable figure, a meticulous, patient plotter, capable, when necessary, of taking massive risks when brewing commensurately destructive schemes."

He took charge of JI's military and political affairs in the 1990s and—following his arrest in Thailand in August 2003—admitted to being the chief Southeast Asian representative and logistical coordinator for al-Qaeda. Among the crimes he has been accused of include the organization of Operation Bojinka; plots to kill President Clinton and Pope John Paul; organizing travel itineraries, accommodation, and welcome dinners for two of the 9/11 hijackers and a suspect in the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole; and meeting with Zacarias Moussaoui, the so-called twentieth hijacker.

A pious child, Hambali had been drawn to radical Islam as a reaction to the attempts of the Suharto regime to promote nationalism by diluting the beliefs of Indonesia's Muslims. He met Abu Bakar Bashir at some point in the latter half of the 1980s. Either way, he helped make JI into a properly organized hierarchical group on his return to Malaysia in the early 1990s, while also tapping into the wider Islamic struggle through an array of ambitious plots, most notably Bojinka, for which investigators claimed he was the principal architect.

He returned to the country of his birth in October 2000, and soon began using his influence to deadly effect, first with the church bombings, then the Bali bomb attack. Following the bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Jakarta in August 2003, Hambali was captured by police in Thailand a week later. He was handed over to U.S. investigators and is reportedly being detained in Jordan.

It is unknown if JI is part of the so-called al-Qaeda network. Certainly, it has many facets in common with al-Qaeda—a commitment to jihad; shared experience in Afghanistan—and has almost certainly received direct financial support from al-Qaeda. Moreover, individuals like Hambali are closely linked to some of al-Qaeda's most notorious followers, notably Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. Nevertheless, this liaison seems to have occurred before Mohammed moved into the bin Laden camp (he was with bin Laden in Afghanistan from around 1998; Hambali, by contrast, never followed him).

JI operates almost wholly on a local basis and, while its grand aim is the establishment of a Southeast Asian caliphate (something almost guaranteed to gain the approval of bin Laden), in practice its efforts have centered almost entirely on the creation of an Indonesian Islamic state. Nevertheless, at the trial of the Bali bombers, its ring leaders were unable or unwilling to state the origins of $35,500 that was transferred to the bombers' bank account. Similar large-scale money transfers preceding other attacks have often been linked back to al-Qaeda and its "sponsorship" of a jihadist attack.

On December 5, 2002, the last day of Ramadan, two bombs went off in Makassaron on the island of Sulawesi. One exploded at a McDonald's restaurant, killing the bomber and two patrons; the other wrecked a car showroom, but claimed no lives. With the Bali bombings still fresh in many minds, suspicion instantly turned to JI, but the reality of the situation was more complicated. The bombings had been carried out by two south Sulawesian-based organizations, Wahdah Islamiyah and Laskar Jundullah, with a largely local-based membership and a leadership entirely independent from JI. However, members of these two groups had received training from JI and cooperated extensively in the past with the larger organization. In this way, JI was emerging as a kind of "local" al-Qaeda, offering assistance towards the pursuit of jihad, but not necessarily knowing or instructing how this would be brought about.


Followers of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) believe in the establishment of a conservative Islamic state in Southeast Asia, although their activities have largely centered on Indonesia. Its followers are adherents to the Darul strain of Islam, which emerged in Indonesia in the 1940s. They believe that the West is seeking to destroy Islam through cultural, economic, and physical colonization and aim to eradicate Western influence by targeting its interests in the region.


Renewed attempt to spread the influence of Darul emerges under the leadership of two Javanese clerics, Abu Bakar Bashir and Abdullah Sungkar; this has become known as Jemaah Islamiyah.
Many JI followers go and fight with the mujahideen in Afghanistan, further radicalizing the organization.
Hambali and Bashir establish JI as a cogent hierarchical organization.
Hambali implicated in Operation Bojinka.
President Suharto overthrown; many JI members return from exile.
Church bombings.
Bali nightclub bombing kills 202.
Marriott Hotel in Jakarta bombed, killing twelve.
Hambali captured in Thailand.
Second bombing of Bali resort kills more than twenty.

JI's hierarchical structure is theoretically topped by an Amir, under whom four councils operate: majelis qiyadah (governing council), majelis syuro (religious council), a fatwa council, and majelis hisbah (disciplinary council). Nevertheless, most decisions come from the Markaziyah (Central command), which heads the governing council, and its members are seldom restricted by the formal hierarchy. It also maintains affiliations with like-minded organizations elsewhere in Southeast Asia, training individuals associated with other groups for jihadist attacks.

As well as carrying out terrorist attacks on Indonesia's Christian population and Western targets, JI has also been involved in the practice of robbing "infidels" to secure funds to defend the faith. According to followers of Darul, this is permissible under Islamic law. JI has also been involved in people smuggling between Indonesia and Malaysia and the Philippines.

The JI network is held together not just by ideology, but also by an intricate network of marriages. According to the International Crisis Group (ICG), this "at times makes it seems [sic] like a giant extended family." Moreover the ICG believe that "insufficient attention has been applied to the role the women of JI play in cementing the network. In many cases, senior JI leaders arranged the marriages of their subordinates to their sisters or sisters-in-law to keep the network secure." Indeed, familial bonds and the strong ties built up in Afghanistan have helped stave off police infiltration.

Jemaah Islamiya Organization (JI)


Jemaah Islamiya Organization is responsible for numerous high-profile bombings, including the bombing of the J. W. Marriott Hotel in Jakarta on August 5, 2003, and the Bali bombings on October 12, 2002. Members of the group have also been implicated in the September 9, 2004, attack outside the Australian Embassy in Jakarta. The Bali attack, which left more than 200 dead, was reportedly the final outcome of meetings in early 2002 in Thailand, where attacks in Singapore and against soft targets such as tourist spots were also considered. In June 2003, authorities disrupted a JI plan to attack several Western embassies and tourist sites in Thailand. In December 2001, Singaporean authorities uncovered a JI plot to attack the U.S. and Israeli Embassies and British and Australian diplomatic buildings in Singapore. JI is also responsible for the coordinated bombings of numerous Christian churches in Indonesia on Christmas Eve 2000 and was involved in the bombings of several targets in Manila on December 31, 2000. The capture in August 2003 of Indonesian Riduan bin Isomoddin (a.k.a. Hambali), JI leader and al-Qa'ida Southeast Asia operations chief, damaged the JI, but the group maintains its ability to target Western interests in the region and to recruit new members through a network of radical Islamic schools based primarily in Indonesia. The emir, or spiritual leader, of JI, Abu Bakar Ba'asyir, was on trial at year's end on charges of conspiracy to commit terrorist acts, and for his links to the Bali and Jakarta Marriott bombings and to a cache of arms and explosives found in central Java.


Exact numbers are unknown, but Southeast Asian authorities continue to uncover and arrest JI elements. Estimates of total JI members vary widely from the hundreds to the thousands.


JI is believed to have cells spanning Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines.


Investigations indicate that JI is fully capable of its own fundraising, although it also receives financial, ideological, and logistical support from Middle Eastern and South Asian contacts, non-governmental organizations, and other groups.

Source: U.S. Department of State. Country Reports on Terrorism. Washington, D.C., 2004.

It continues to recruit members from pesantrens (Muslim boarding schools), some of which it is closely affiliated to, although such institutions account for just a tiny fraction of the 14,000 or so Muslim boarding schools that exist in Indonesia.


In August 2003, the Belgian-based International Crisis Group (ICG) reported that "JI remains dangerous," adding that "The arrests that have taken place thus far—close to ninety people in Indonesia, ninety in Malaysia, and thirty in Singapore—almost certainly have put a crimp in the organization's activities, but they have not destroyed it. The markaziyah or central command of JI has lost a few of its members … but may well be still operational …"

Pointing to extensive research into JI's activities, the ICG stated: "The wakalah structure is probably far more extensive than previously thought, stretching across Malaysia to Sabah and Sarawak as well as across the Indonesian archipelago. The network of alliances, such as that between JI and the MILF in the Philippines or JI and Wahdah Islamiyah in South Sulawesi, means that even if some JI members lie low for the time being, others can work with the large pool of trained cadres that exists outside the JI organisation to undertake acts of violence. A new generation of salafi jihadists is also being raised among the children of JI members sent to study in the small circle of pesantrens that constitute the JI's educational circle.

"The good news is that internal dissension within JI appears to be growing. The Marriott bombing, in particular, generated a debate about appropriate targets, but there were apparently already divisions over the appropriateness of Indonesia as a venue for Jihad … The Marriott attack appears to have intensified that debate. Some JI members based in pesantrens have expressed concern that their ability to play the traditional outreach role in the local community is hampered by JI's clandestine nature. And with so many JI leaders in prison, some sympathisers are worried that individual JI members are going off on their own, without sufficient control from the centre. Internal rifts have destroyed more than one radical organisation; perhaps they will seriously weaken this one."

A special investigation carried out by Time magazine in December 2003 revealed that, despite a spate of arrests following the Bali and Marriott bombings, JI was still fully functioning. "As more and more senior JI members are arrested and questioned, and the organization's internal documents come to light, some of the veils of secrecy are being stripped away," the magazine reported. "Recent interrogation and intelligence reports … make it clear that one of JI's best-kept secrets is the ambitious scale of its training camps in Mindanao, which has replaced Afghanistan as the preferred location for learning how to wage terror. Even more alarming: more than a year after Bali, both the camps and the supply routes for recruits appear to be functioning normally."


With the second bombing of the Bali resort of Kutu in October 2005, JI has shown that the strong familial and fraternal ties that bind it together have allowed a hard core to resist detection. While its threat beyond Indonesia has seemingly been nullified by security crackdowns, it remains a danger both to Indonesia's native population and to Western interests in the archipelago.



Parry, Richard Lloyd. In a Time of Madness. New York: Random House, 2005.

Web sites

International Crisis Group. "Jemaah Islamiyah In South East Asia: Damaged But Still Dangerous." 〈〉 (accessed October 14, 2005).

Uterecht University. "Genealogies of Islamic Radicalism in Post-Suharto Indonesia." 〈∼martin.vanbruinessen/personal/publications/genealogies_islamic_radicalism.htm〉 (accessed October 14, 2005). "Asia's Own Osama." 〈〉 (accessed October 14, 2005).