Conflict & Justice

Indonesian radicals hail Osama as martyr


A Palestinian militant from the Islamic Jihad movement displays a portrait of Saudi dissident Osama bin Laden in July 2001. Since his death, sympathetic radicals have hailed the al-Qaeda chief as a "martyr." Senior al-Qaeda leader and 9/11 plotter Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, now confined by the U.S., has previously compared Bin Laden to George Washington.



And so the martyrdom begins.

A radical Indonesian Islamic faction, founded by a well-known al-Qaeda sympathizer, is wasting no time in hailing Osama bin Laden as a martyr.

The founder is hardline cleric Abu Bakar Bashir. He's awaiting trial for allegedly forming one of al-Qaeda's newest wings in 2008: the ornately titled "al-Qaeda of the Veranda of Mecca." Since then, the prolific Islamist has also formed an above-ground group, Jemaah Ansharut Tauhid.

They're the ones proclaiming Osama "died a martyr" because "he fought for Islam and he fought for the lands colonised by America," according to AFP.

Mythologizing Bin Laden is, of course, nothing new. His right-hand man, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, told a tribunal at Guantanamo Bay that the al-Qaeda chief was the "George Washington" of Muslims. "He needs his independence," Mohammed said.

Moderate groups such as Indonesia's Nahdlatul Ulama, one of the world's largest Muslim bodies, are warning Bin Laden's death isn't a game changer.

"We have to remain alert because radicalism has existed for a long time and will always remain," said the group's chairman. Malaysia's home minister was more cheery, asserting that Osama's death could bring "greater peace and universal harmony."

Here's the big question: are al-Qaeda's networks in Southeast Asia capable of pulling off major attacks on the West in the spirit of their idol? Or reviving dreams of hijacking planes for a Sept. 11-style attack on California?

It's not likely, says Sidney Jones, an International Crisis Group terror expert based in Jakarta. 

Bin Laden's largest Asian affiliate in 2001, Jemaah Islamiyah, has been "smashed" by police crackdowns and internal rifts, she said. It's now largely a "social organization" with a vastly reduced potential for attacks.

The major terror trend in Southeast Asia, Jones said, is a focus on local issues that fire up fundamentalists: Christians, heretical Muslims and abusive cops.

"Things we’re seeing now are much more directed at local targets," she said. "And they’re much more amateurish."

International targets, such as the U.S. or U.K., are proving less resonant in Asia. Even the Israeli-Palestine conflict, a reliable source of fundamentalist ire, is failing to rile the faithful, Jones said.

But on top of that, she adds a major disclaimer: "These groups are highly adaptive and always evolving and mutating." Also, many major terrorist figures mopped up in post-Sept. 11 raids will likely finish prison sentences in the next 5-7 years. "And Indonesia has a poor track record of monitoring these people after their release."