Channel NewsAsia

Islamic State militants recruiting Indonesian students in Turkey

Indonesian students in Turkey have become recruitment targets for Indonesian militant groups which have joined Islamic State (IS) fighters in Syria. The militants have built up a base near the Turkey-Syria border as well as safe houses to facilitate the travel of fighters into the battle zone.

JAKARTA: Indonesian students in Turkey have become recruitment targets for Indonesian militant groups which have joined Islamic State (IS) fighters in Syria. The militants have not only built up a base near the Turkey-Syria border, they have even built safe houses to facilitate the travel of Southeast Asian fighters into the battle zone.

The estimated 800 Indonesians studying in high schools and universities across Turkey are prime targets for those groups, who see them as a useful part of their cause. Muhamad Syauqillah, an Indonesian doctoral student in Turkey, said: "The Majelis Mujahiddin Indonesia (a militant umbrella group) had been in Turkey and approached a student. And this student didn't know who those people were because they used a personal network."

Muhamad Syauqillah said it is in their nature for Indonesian students to be hospitable to fellow Indonesians - but militants have exploited that hospitality to recruit members. Muhamad Syauqillah said: "There's already one senior high school student recruited. A first year university student was also recruited. They have friends who have links to militant groups in Indonesia."

Indonesian terrorism expert Noor Huda Ismail recently crossed the Turkey-Syria border to discover that Indonesian militants have built up so much support there, they have even established a base in the area. Noor Huda said: "They have not only made contact, but they also managed to build a safe house there where they can host Indonesians or Southeast Asians who travel to the border of Syria. And then, they can stay there for one or two days before actually going inside the border of Syria with the help of fighters inside."

He said most Indonesian militants cross the border under the guise of humanitarian missions. Noor Huda said: "Some of them used this as a vehicle to actually bring in fighters. If you look at all the Indonesian humanitarian workers – let’s say 10 of them travelled (across the border), only four will come back. Six – only three will come back. So this kind of pattern, we need to look at it seriously."

The Indonesian government believes there are currently around 50 Indonesians fighting alongside IS militants in Syria and Iraq, but sources close to the groups told Channel NewsAsia that the number is at least three times more. Some have returned home but most are still in Syria and Iraq, while there are also those who have simply perished.

One draw for Indonesians to fight in Syria and Iraq is that the IS is said to take care of their financial needs. Noor Huda said: "An interesting case is when one of them told me he borrowed money to travel there. But when he arrived in IS, he got paid US$250 per month. Earning US$250 for an Indonesian is something. So the allure to go there also has to do with economic reasons."

However, most of the time, hundreds of Indonesians join the fight in Syria and Iraq due to militant ideology and the misunderstanding of the prophecy that a caliph will emerge from the area and lead fighters into a final battle, before the world comes to an end.