Of all the Islamic terrorist organizations known to be operating in Southeast Asia, Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) is probably the most terrifying name. JI is a transnational organization with cells in Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines. In addition to al-Qaeda the group is also thought to have links to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and Jamaah Ansharut Tauhid, a splinter cell of the JI which was formed by Abu Bakar Baasyir on 27 July 2008.
The group has been designated as a terrorist group by the United Nations, Australia, Canada, China, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States. It remained very active in Indonesia where it publicly maintained a website as of January 2013.
Jemaah Islamiyah has its roots in Darul Islam (DI, meaning “House of Islam”), a radical Islamist/anti-colonialist movement in Indonesia in the 1940s. It was established as a loose confederation of several Islamic groups. Sometime around 1969, three men, Abu Bakar Bashir, Abdullah Sungkar and Shahrul Nizam ‘PD’ began an operation to propagate the Darul Islam movement, a conservative strain of Islam.
Bashir and Sungkar were both imprisoned by the New Order administration of Indonesian president Suharto as part of a crackdown on radical groups such as Komando Jihad, that were perceived to undermine the government’s control over the Indonesian population. The two leaders spent several years in prison. After release, Bashir and his followers moved to Malaysia in 1982. They recruited people from Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and the Philippines. The group officially named itself Jemaah Islamiah around that time period.
JI was formally founded on 1 January 1993, by JI leaders, Abu Bakar Bashir and Abdullah Sungkar, while hiding in Malaysia from the anti-terrorism drive of the Suharto government. After the fall of the Suharto government in 1998, both men returned to Indonesia, where JI gained a terrorist edge when one of its founders, the late Abdullah Sungkar, established contact with Osama Bin Laden’s al-Qaeda network.
JI’s violent operations began during the communal conflicts in Maluku and Poso. It shifted its attention to targeting US and Western interests in Indonesia and the wider Southeast Asian region since the start of the US-led war on terror. JI’s terror plans in Southeast Asia were exposed when its plot to set off several bombs in Singapore was foiled by the local authorities.
In 2004, Abu Bakar Bashir created the Indonesian Mujahedeen Council to connect Islamist groups, including JI, in Indonesia.
Recruiting, training, indoctrination, financial, and operational links between the JI and other militant groups, such as al-Qaeda, the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the Misuari Renegade/Breakaway Group (MRG/MBG) and the Philippine Rajah Sulaiman movement (RSM) have existed for many years.
Bashir became the spiritual leader of the group while Hambali became the military leader. Unlike the Al-Mau’nah group, Jemaah Islamiah kept a low profile in Malaysia and their existence was publicized only after the 2002 Bali bombings.