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Politics

Indonesia tightens anti-terrorism measures through muscle and mind

Widodo policy aims to protect children from indoctrination

Unprecedented suicide bombings by children in Indonesia have prompted President Joko Widodo to protect the country's youth from extremist ideology. (Photo by Jun Suzuki)

JAKARTA -- Recent suicide bombings carried out by children have led Indonesia to bolster its anti-terror forces as well as enhance education to protect young people from indoctrination by extremists.

Indonesia's parliament enacted an anti-terrorism law on May 25 that allows terrorism suspects to be detained for three weeks, up from one week previously, and permits greater military involvement in counterterrorism operations.

Heeding President Joko Widodo’s call for the eradication of terrorist organizations, the National Police has arrested over 20 suspects thus far.

But a series of Islamic State-inspired suicide bombings starting May 13 in Surabaya, which involved boys and girls ages 9 to 18, reveals the limits of a crackdown on potential terrorists by the police alone.

Widodo has backed a new policy designed to prevent youth from coming under extremist influence. Indonesia will develop educational programs and materials that include promoting the country’s motto of "unity in diversity."

The suicide bombings in the Surabaya area were carried out by 17 people from three families -- including 11 children -- likely indoctrinated by extremists to expel nonbelievers.

An “ideological guru” persuaded the families, who were acquaintances, to carry out the attacks, the National Police said. The children reportedly were not allowed to attend school and were repeatedly shown videos of Islamic State fighters killing nonbelievers.

Jun Honna, a professor at Ritsumeikan University in Japan, called the suicide bombings involving entire families an unprecedented kind of attack.

“Indonesians who came into contact with the Islamic State in places like Syria had a hand in the plots,” he speculated.

Hundreds of Indonesians have returned home after traveling to Islamic State-controlled areas in the Middle East. The Southeast Asian country also is thought to have extremists influenced by the Islamic State through online channels.

Indonesia's democratization has coincided with a rise in terrorism. Extremist groups began pouring into the country after the collapse of Suharto's regime in 1998 weakened surveillance on civilians. Bombings on the island of Bali in 2002 killed over 200, and attacks by domestic groups pledging allegiance to the Islamic State have continued since 2016.

Yet heavy surveillance by counterterrorism forces also carries the risk of human rights violations, and some express concern that the new educational programs might threaten freedom of thought. Indonesia, like many other nations, struggles to balance democratic ideals with the war against terrorism.

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