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Al Qaeda used to have big plans for Asia

Why the latest wave of Indonesian jihadis are less keen on attacking America.

The current most popular radical network, Jamaah Ansharut Tauhid or JAT, was founded in 2008 by a man formerly accused of aiding the Bali bombers and currently in detention under allegations of starting terror camps.

The JAT group’s “ultimate objective is the establishment of an Islamic state,” according to defense analysts at Jane’s Information Group. “It rejects democracy and considers Muslim rulers who do not apply its interpretation of Shariah to be apostates and tantamount to infidels.”

On the group’s polished website, leader Abu Bakar Bashir is described in Indonesian as a “true nationalist, not like the pseudo-nationalist officials ... who commit treason by selling the nation’s assets to the West. He really loves this country.”

This sort of anti-West sentiment is still common in radical rhetoric, as are unabashed nods to Al Qaeda. Within 24 hours of bin Laden’s killing by U.S. forces, the group hailed him as a martyr who “fought for Islam” and “fought for the lands colonized by America.”

But the group devotes much more energy to domestic issues, Effendi said. Many teachings appeal to those disillusioned with government corruption — which is endemic in Indonesia — and the decay of social values.

“These groups may still get inspiration from Al Qaeda,” Effendi said. “But they don’t really identify themselves as part of that global network.”

Considered by some experts to be Indonesia’s largest ongoing terror threat, JAT was raided in late 2010 for allegedly starting secret militant cells. Its inner circle likely endorses violence, according to International Crisis Group, but they hide their motives to avoid losing supporters.

“Its real danger comes from the fact that it serves as a recruiting pool for more militant organizations,” Jones said. They probably aren’t receiving any backdoor funding from Al Qaeda, she said, because “Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is pretty strapped for cash itself.”

But this targeting of what jihadis call the “near enemy” rather than the “far enemy” means that, for now, Western interests are less threatened by Asian terror cells than 10 years previous, Jones said.

“The one thing everyone has to keep in mind,” she said, “is that these groups are highly adaptive and always evolving. We have hundreds of [radicals] in prison who will be coming out in the next five to seven years ... and a very poor track record of monitoring what they do after their release.”