Commentary: IS Rallied Supporters to Launch Ramadan Attacks in Asia

Commentary by Rohan Gunaratna
160706-gunaratna-620.jpg Police stand guard at the site of a suicide bombing outside a police station in Solo, Central Java, Indonesia, July 5, 2016.

The Islamic State (IS) did not spare Asia in its global campaign of Ramadan Jihad.

The scale, magnitude and frequency of Ramadan-time attacks – from Turkey to Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia – was driven by a call from IS spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani.

“Get prepared, be ready to make it a month of calamity everywhere for the non-believers!” he said.

IS directed, instigated and inspired attacks on several continents, including in Asia.

In Southeast Asia, where IS infrastructure is intact and growing, groups, cells and personalities attacked government, public and other targets. Malaysia suffered its first IS attack in Selangor; the Philippines suffered multiple attacks in Mindanao; and Indonesia suffered a suicide bomb attack in Solo, where only the attacker perished.

Both Indonesia and Malaysia pre-empted several other attacks, including a major attack in Surabaya, Indonesia’s second largest city.

During Ramadan, Muslims around the world engage in prayer, devotion, charity, fasting as well as refrain from sinful behavior as they commemorate the first revelation of the Quran to Prophet Muhammad. However, by launching a Ramadan jihad, IS distorted both Ramadan and jihad.

Muslim threat groups driven by a politico-religious ideology perceive that the reward for an afterlife is greater if they attack and even sacrifice their lives during Ramadan. It is not a belief shared by most Muslims.

IS-linked attacks in region

Until 2014, Southeast Asia had been the preserve of al-Qaeda. But today al-Qaeda influenced threat groups in the region – most notably Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) – find themselves challenged.

The IS-centric threat is supplanting the al-Qaeda/JI centric-threat in Southeast Asia. Recruits who travelled to Syria and Iraq were directing the attacks in Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines.

The mastermind of IS’s first attack in Malaysia, the Syria-based Muhammad Wanndy Mohamed Jedi, recruited Malaysians to launch the June 28 attack in Malaysia. Two IS operatives recruited by him threw a grenade into the Movida Bar and Lounge in Puchong, near Kuala Lumpur. The attack injured eight patrons, one seriously.

Claiming responsibility for the attack, IS central issued a statement from Syria saying that “two soldiers of the Caliphate from the wilayat of Malaysia” conducted the first IS attack in Malaysia. The statement said the nightclub was attacked for not respecting the month of Ramadhan “by conducting sinful activities.”

On July 2, IS announced that its fighters had engaged in combat with the Philippine Army.

“[W]ith help from Allah, the soldiers of the Caliphate carried out an attack on the Philippine Crusader army with light and medium weapons on Basilan Island in southern Philippines. The battles are still hot. We ask Allah to subdue His enemies,” IS said.

The fighting between local groups and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) escalated, especially on the southern Philippine island of Basilan, where Abu Sayyaf Group Basilan leader Isnilon Hapilon was accepted as the IS leader in the Philippines by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the extremist group’s self-appointed Caliph. In Southeast Asia, IS is strongest in the Philippines, where its members can hold ground and fight.

In Indonesia, the terrorists suffered after they hit Jakarta in January 2016, but they reorganized to strike back during Ramadan.

The suicide attack on a police station in Solo on July 5 was conducted by Nur Rohman, a terrorist on the run. He was a part of the Aref Hidayatullah network, which planned and prepared operations to decapitate the Indonesian counterterrorism leadership.

Both Aref Hidayatullah and Nur Rohman reported to Bahrun Naim, the IS external operations wing leader for Indonesia who is based in Syria. Nur Rohman knew that his arrest was imminent and was told that Ramadan was the best period to wage jihad.

His target was the police station in Solo, the nerve center for counter terrorist operations in central Java. On the last day of Ramadan, Nur Rohman wore a suicide jacket and rode a motor cycle into the police station in Solo. He blew himself up and injured a police officer who tried to stop him.

While Bahrun Naim was the attacker’s controller based in Syria, the IS controller of the Surabaya cell that was disrupted was Abu Jandal, another Syria based IS operative.

The IS Surabaya attack cell was linked to the IS Sarinah attack cell that hit central Jakarta on Jan. 14. Both suicide cells were linked through Shibgho, who was seen at the scene when Jakarta's Thamrin bombing occurred.

IS cell members Priyo Hadi Purnomo, Jefri Rachmawan and Feri Novendi, who are all Surabayans, were once imprisoned in Porong Penitentiary in Surabaya, where they shared a common ideology.

While in prison there, Priyo was often seen with Maulan Yusuf Wibisono and Shibgotuloh. Maulan Yusuf Wibisono alias Kholis is a former member of the Jemaah Islamiyah network led by Abu Dujana.

While Priyo was imprisoned for a drug crime and released in April 2014, Jefri was on the Porong police’s wanted list for gang violence and domestic violence. Police monitored Priyo in particular after he often visited Shibgho – a former convict responsible for an attack on a branch of CIMB Niaga Bank in Medan, North Sumatra, in 2010.

Like the Jakarta bombing, the foiled Surabaya plot was a suicide attack where the attackers believed that they would go to heaven afterwards. They had prepared three bombs, including one designed to be detonated by cell phone, a pipe bomb, and a high-explosive bomb which could be triggered by a light sensor.

In addition to these three devices, the police recovered 20 other devices. According to Indonesia’s elite counter-terrorism force Densus 88, the three devices were ready for use and the remaining 20 were in various stages of assembly. The attack in Surabaya was planned for the 17th day of the holy fasting month of Ramadan, which fell this year on June 22.

The cell was disrupted on June 8.

Distorting the Nights of Power

The spate of attacks during Ramadan was driven by the belief that to be good Muslims they must join, support and participate in the activities of Islamic State.  Although Ramadan is a month dedicated to piety and good deeds, the call by IS to attack the enemies of Islam and Muslims during Ramadan revitalized the threat.

“When Ramadan comes, the gates of the Garden are opened, and the gates of the Fire are locked, and the satans are fettered,” according to a hadith in the Quran.

The extremists and terrorists, driven by the belief that they would be rewarded in the afterlife, carried out the attacks during that last 10 days of the holy month, which are known as the Nights of Power (Laylat al-Qadr), the time when the Quran was revealed to Prophet Muhammad.

The terrorists who carried out the attacks in Puchong, Solo, and Mindanao believed that they were performing the greatest act of jihad because they undertook these acts during the Nights of Power.

But their claim is highly questionable. Hoping that God would accept the attack as a good deed is equally reprehensible. It is beyond the shadow of doubt that the terrorists have veered from what the Prophet had advised Muslims to do during the blessed month of Ramadan and the Nights of Power.

There is absolutely no basis to consider any attack as a good deed. The difference between what the Prophet did and what the terrorists did is glaring. Nothing can change the fact that the attacks in Turkey, Lebanon, France, Orlando, Fla.; Iraq, Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia and Southeast Asia were sinful, and that the terrorists who perpetrated these attacks are sinners.

Nothing is further from the truth than the terrorists’ claim that fighting in the month of Ramadan is a tradition of the Prophet Muhammad. Using the Battle of Badr, which happened during the month of Ramadan, as justification for the killing and destruction they carried out under the guise of jihad does not make such attacks legitimate.

During his lifetime the Prophet did not fight because it was during the blessed month of Ramadan, and certainly not out of the belief that he would receive a greater reward because it was Ramadan. The war was a culmination of the many years during which the Prophet and other earlier Muslims lived under constant threats and persecution from the polytheists Quraysh, when they were still in Mecca.

Even after they migrated to Medina, the Quraysh continued their hostility and were bent on killing the Prophet and destroying Islam. This was the background leading to the Battle of Badr.

‘Far from being an act of worship’

From this expose, how can the Ramadan-time attacks that took place in 2016 be justified? How could the terrorists hope to attain martyrdom when their actions violated the very teachings of the Quran and the example set by the Prophet?

Ramadan is a month for Muslims to be more deeply immersed in worship, unlike in any other months. Surely, these recent attacks do not qualify as good deeds, and are far from being an act of worship.

From another perspective, these attacks indicate that governments and their religious partners cannot claim to have the upper hand in the ideological battle against IS. It suggests that religious authorities and scholars must develop a robust counter ideology to prevent future generation of Muslims from justifying terrorism using Islamic concepts and misreading Muslim history.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and not of BenarNews.


Add your comment by filling out the form below in plain text. Comments are approved by a moderator and can be edited in accordance with RFAs Terms of Use. Comments will not appear in real time. RFA is not responsible for the content of the postings. Please, be respectful of others' point of view and stick to the facts.