ARLINGTON, Va. — Indonesia’s defense minister said at the Pentagon on Tuesday that the country needs real cooperation fighting the growth of the Islamic State there, and not just talk.
The country with the world’s largest Muslim population experienced an especially gruesome ISIS attack on May 13, when a family with young children split into teams to attack three churches in Surabaya. That same day, explosives ripped through a family apartment in Sidoarjo when an accidental detonation occurred during bomb construction. The next day, in an attack captured on surveillance footage, another family pulled up to a police station checkpoint in Surabaya and detonated their bombs.
Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu, meeting with Defense Secretary James Mattis, said upon being welcomed to the Pentagon that “the bottom line is that we have to step up the level of cooperation to tackle or to confront the development of ISIS in our region.”
“We have to be serious and we cannot be in the rhetorical manner, but have to be in the more concrete and more operational manner,” Ryacudu said. “…We already conducted the successful sea patrol as well as the aerial patrol. And in the future, we’d like to step up the level of cooperation into the land forces during operation and exercise.”
“But we ought to conduct this land forces operation, we would like to conduct the land forces exercise and training between these three countries. Because what we face is a very experienced foreign fighters that are emanating from Syria and Iraq. So we have to be prepared.”
Mattis noted that the U.S. and Indonesia “share values of freedom as the second- and the third-largest democracies in the world,” and “since 1949, the United States and Indonesia have developed a meaningful strategic partnership, one built on respect.”
“We are now countering ISIS in Southeast Asia. We’re training together at military schools,” he said.
Indonesian ISIS supporters have been active recently on social media, circulating threats and trying to whip up recruitment. In April, they published posters online warning that Satan is behind the American financial system as well as media and entertainment, threatening to attack a handful of entities.
In November 2016, with the Syrian Democratic Forces beginning the battle to retake the caliphate’s claimed capital Raqqa, ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi issued an audio message calling jihadists in Afghanistan, the Caucasus, Indonesia, Philippines, Sinai, Bangladesh, West Africa and North Africa the “base of the caliphate.”
“Indonesia increasingly has become a haven for Islamist extremists. And we’ve seen it not just in the society at large, but also in the government,” Mark Mitchell, acting assistant secretary for special operations and low-intensity conflict at the Defense Department, told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee in December, underscoring that “prisons are serving as a source of radicalization.”
Last summer, Indonesia’s military chief Gen. Gatot Nurmantyo warned ISIS was present “in almost every province” of the country, which consists of some 18,000 islands. “We must all beware of sleeper cells being activated in Indonesia,” Nurmantyo told reporters.