Channel NewsAsia

Indonesia needs stronger laws and 'soft approach' to fight terrorism: Security minister

Indonesia's Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Luhut Pandjaitan tells Channel NewsAsia's Sujadi Siswo how the country plans to review its anti-terror laws.

JAKARTA: One week after a terror attack killed eight people, including four militants, near the Sarinah shopping mall in downtown Jakarta, Channel NewsAsia's Sujadi Siswo sat down on thursday (Jan 21) with Indonesia's Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Luhut Pandjaitan to ask him about the country’s plans to tackle terrorism.

CNA Correspondent Sujadi Siswo: Again Indonesia is at the forefront of the fight against terrorism. And we’ve just heard that there are plans by the Indonesian government to relook and review the terrorism law. What aspects will the Indonesian government be looking at to make those amendments

Minister Luhut: Basically, we’ll review this law because we understand the security agencies need more authority carry out pre-emptive operations in order to tackle this kind of issue. Last week’s incident was a 'good experience' for us; we now know the power as well as network of terrorism in Indonesia. So, we need some stronger laws to support our security agencies.

CNA: Which part are you looking at?

Luhut: Our law didn't allow us to arrest anyone before a crime is committed. So right now, we can pre-empt the crime. If we know there is a potential threat, we can arrest (the suspects) and detain them for seven days for interrogation. If we don’t have any proof that they have plotted something, we can release them. This will give us some more power and intelligence to avoid incidents like the one last week near the Sarinah shopping centre.


Channel NewsAsia's Sujadi Siswo speaks to Indonesia's Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Luhut Pandjaitan.

CNA: Is it possible or true that because of this inability of the Indonesian security agencies to act on the current information they had gotten, they weren’t able to stop that bombing?

Luhut: I don’t think that’s the only issue. I don’t think any intelligence agency could tell us 'okay tomorrow in Sarinah, at this time we are going to be attacked'. Nobody can obtain such intelligence. Why? Simple; it's because they're now smart. They don’t use telephone to communicate about the time or location of their attack. They communicate via a courier or something like that.

So, it's very hard. However, I can assure you that Indonesia's security agencies are working very hard. Also, I just had a meeting this morning with some intelligence community; we are mapping. We've managed to learn about the organisation as well as locations of these terrorists. We've also learnt how they communicated. Basically, we're quite confident.

Still, I can't say to you we are immune to terrorist threats. I don’t think any country in the world can guarantee they're immune to terrorist attacks. However, I can assure you, like I said earlier, that we're working very hard to solve the problem. If something like this happens again, we are not going to compromise. Look at what happened last week. Within just 11 minutes, less than 12 minutes, we stormed the building. I'm sorry to say that we killed them but we did it because that's what we had to do to handle such terrorists.

CNA: What is your assessment of the current threat level in Indonesia?

Luhut: I should say like last month. We already reported there is an imminent threat, which can happen anytime. We don’t know how long this situation will remain; I hope not too long. Police are working very hard and still chasing these cells. We’ll see what happens.

CNA: There have been concerns. We are talking about the revision or planned revision of the anti-terror law. For the Indonesian public, they think that might violate the human rights law in Indonesia. How are you addressing these public concerns?

Luhut: I think we just have to give an explanation to the public. This is, I think, the equilibrium, security and the actions of security agencies. If you want to bring harmony, security, and safety to your lives, you also have to give some of your freedom. That, I think, is my understanding. It's like we have to do a search before you can enter somewhere, and you have to wait for a while because of that. It's something like that. So, that’s number one.

Number two, if you're talking about human rights, of course, we're concerned about human rights. We don't want to jeopardise our own people. Why should we do that? Maybe if we look back 10-15 years ago, this kind of mindset was present in Indonesia. But today, I don’t think that much because the public also want some security. Security for them is very important; they understand that. We can also tell them 'if you don’t have it like this, you blame us. (What) can we do? Why don’t you work here together with us? How would you respond to this kind of situation?' They know it very well.


President Joko Widodo visits a department store located near the gun and bomb attack in central Jakarta January 15, 2016. (Photo: Reuters/Garry Lotulung)

CNA: So the current government is very confident that it can push through this revision? The previous government has tried but they were not successful.

Luhut: We are very confident. I’m the Coordinating Minister. I can assure you I’m working very hard. I understand quite clearly what happened on the ground. But again, I’m not saying we can be 100 per cent immune or sterile to this kind of threat. No. But (if) anything happens, I promise you we are going to respond decisively and immediately to make it clear.

CNA Following the attacks, we’ve seen arrests made in Malaysia. Then there were arrests in Singapore as well; they made a statement about the Bangladeshi. It seems that these cells or the IS-linked networks are existing in the region, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore at least. Do you see or have you been briefed about it that this is a regional network rather than national network? What is your assessment?

Luhut: Well, yes indeed. They are trying to do the 'khalifah in this region. That’s absolutely correct. But what I explained to our community here is that we don't want to import the problem from the Middle East. Indonesia is Indonesia. We work very closely with Singapore (in) intelligence, and also with Malaysians, Australians and some other intelligence agencies. We’ve exchanged information or intelligence.

We also get some information and inform our counterparts in Singapore and Malaysia as well. So we have to work together. I don’t think it can be done by one country. We have to do it as a team. So, for example, Singapore has good intelligence, so do Malaysia, Thailand and Australia. That, I think, can minimise the problem from IS (Islamic State).

CNA: So you are saying that there is this regional network in the making, that they are trying to build a regional network rather than an individual cell that is operating?

Luhut: They already have individual cells but they are trying to connect this network in Indonesia. There are maybe two to three cells of terrorists like Abu Bakar Bashir and Aman Abdulrahman. They have their own operations, but whether they do some joint operations as well, we don’t know. However, we have some information about that.

CNA: You did mention that the security agencies, the intelligence agencies, are working in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and even Australia. How are the countries coming together as a united front to tackle this current issue of IS? Previously, the countries have worked together against JI (Jemaah Islamiyah). How is it that these countries are coming together now to confront IS?

Luhut: We have the same interest. We understand this is a common interest and a global threat. That, I think, puts us close together. I can call Pak Teo (Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for National Security Teo Chee Hean) from Singapore and inform him what happened last week. That’s the way we do it. I talked also to the Attorney-General of Australia just to let them know what’s going on and they asked: 'Do you need this?' And I said: 'So far, we are okay. Maybe we need this one'. So, that’s the kind of cooperation which is very pragmatic, very quick and very fast. But then in the big picture, we asked them if they get any information from other agencies that they can also share with us.


Police search the house of a suspect whom they identified as one of the people killed in the gun and bomb attack in central Jakarta on 14 January, 2016. (Photo: Reuters/Agoes Rudianto/Antara Foto)

CNA How different is this time, compared to how the countries have worked against Jemaah Islamiyah?

Luhut: There is a different government now with the leadership of Pak Jokowi (President Joko Widodo). I think it’s very clear. He gives very clear guidance and we know what we‘re going to do and we get a good umbrella to work. That’s the way we’re doing it, very simple. We had a meeting this afternoon about the revision of the new law and the President gave very clear guidance as to what he wants us to do. Tomorrow, we will continue our meeting and, hopefully not too long, maybe two weeks from now, we will see the new revised law being sent to Parliament.

CNA How would you compare, this time around, the threat of IS against how the JI was working in the region?

Luhut: IS and JI are a little bit different. This one is more massive than JI. You have to give more attention to IS.

CNA: Coming back to the plan to revise the anti-terror law, we do know there are a number of Indonesians who have returned from Syria. How does the Indonesian government monitor them?

Luhut: That is another issue that we have to tackle because when they join the foreign fighters, then we should do something. 'Why do you do it over there against the government of Indonesia? So, maybe, okay you don’t need the Indonesian passport anymore so you stopped,' something like that. We follow also your laws and some other countries, so we have to tell them, 'If you do something against the government, then you have to get this punishment'. That's a fair approach.

We don’t want them to go to Raqqa in Syria to join the training over there, kill people over there, then come back to Indonesia to organise something here and kill our own people. We know this is going to happen and we don’t do anything. That’s the problem with the government. So we say, 'no you’re not allowed to enter Indonesia anymore'. That’s the new chapter of revision of the law.

CNA: So they won’t be able to come back if they fight overseas?

Luhut: We will tell them: 'If you join, we will renounce you. If you go abroad and join the foreign fighters, then we will take away your passport. You don’t belong to the government and the people of Indonesia anymore. Why should you fight against the government?'

CNA: What happens to those who have returned? They are already here. So what do you plan to do?

Luhut: There is a de-radicalisation programme. We have a holistic programme. We work closely together with some other agencies. There are seven points that they have to go through, talking about religion, talking about psychology, talking about education, vocational training because they have to do something after they get out of jail. For instance, it’s not easy for them to go back to their normal life because they’ve been jailed for maybe five to six years. So they need some time to adjust. So, the government should help them. Whether you like it or not, they are still citizens of Indonesia.

CNA: So these returning jihadists have gone through or begun to go through this programme?

Luhut: We're trying to do so. As long as we get the information, we can bring them to this kind of programme because some of them come from a poor family background. We have to help. The economic problem is also a trigger for them to join IS. That’s why the present government of President Jokowi kept (saying that) we have to achieve the equality and minimise the gap between the haves and the have-nots.

That’s an economic programme of President Jokowi, since we cannot only fight with the hard approach. The best way to do it is by the soft approach, meaning we have to use religion, we have to use economic, and we have to use the cultural approach in order to prevent ordinary people from joining IS.


An Indonesian policeman holds a weapon while walking near a broken glass window from a Starbucks outlet in Jakarta January 14, 2016. (Photo: Reuters/Beawiharta)

CNA: The fight against JI took about ten years before the structure really got disrupted. This is just the beginning; this is a new cycle. How long do you think and how fast do you think Indonesia and the region will be able to tackle this?

Luhut: This is a very hard question. Look at the Middle East. How long is it going to be like this in the Middle East? It’s there for maybe five years, maybe more since Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, Tunis and Yemen, maybe 10 years. It’s very hard with so many countries over there. Now what happened to Indonesia, I think, is going to be hard but it depends on how the people of Indonesia respond to this kind of threat.

Do we want to see harmony in this country or do we want to see this country like those in the Middle East? I believe the majority of people in Indonesia will say we want to be like this – with harmony and peace - that’s the objective of the people. So if we get the kind of support from the people, I believe we can contain this problem as much as possible.

CNA: So that’s a value proposition by the government to the Indonesian public?

Luhut: Yes, don’t just rely on our own power. We’re not going to work alone. We have to do it together. That’s why the role of the people, the role of the ordinary people, and the role of the elite are very important. We have to work together. We have to work as a team. If we do it together, I’m very confident we can minimise or contain this kind of problem.

The prosperity of the people is very important. The gap between the haves and have-nots is one issue the government should work hard to minimise. So, our economy right now is moving much better and, I believe, from time to time it will be like that. The President also promotes many programmes to support the ordinary people, such as introducing the programme of US$4.5 billion this year to 74,000 villages. So every village will have 1 billion rupiah, like US$100,000, to get the economy moving over there.

This is also to minimise the poverty in that area. We then hope this can also be a deterrent to the IS problem. If you look at the people, they are still very poor. It’s easy to brainwash them. However, if they see their prosperity is there, they see they can survive, and they can live in harmony, I don’t believe it’s easy for the terrorists to brainwash them, or to educate them to go to Syria to be foreign fighters. That’s what I believe. 

Watch the interview on Primetime Asia on Friday (Jan 22) at 7pm (SG/HK).