Indonesian universities are tightening monitoring on student activities following the arrest of a suspected terrorist in a state university in Sumatra last Saturday.
The National Police’s counterterrorism unit, Densus 88, arrested on Saturday three Riau University (Unri) alumni over an alleged plan to launch an attack on the House of Representatives building in Jakarta and the Riau Council building in Pekanbaru.
The arrests marked the first time law enforcement personnel arrested suspected terrorists inside a university. Police have in the past arrested university students and alumni allegedly connected to terrorist groups, but all of the arrests were made away from campus.
After the arrests in Riau, the Medan-based North Sumatra University (USU), located in Riau’s neighboring province of North Sumatra, instructed all university departments to stop activities on the institution’s premises by 10 p.m.
Rundung said that even though USU had yet to discover any activity related to radicalism being conducted on the university premises, the university’s central office had visited all departments to “convey moral messages” to lecturers and students about the danger of “being contaminated by radical teachings”.
Of the three men arrested on Saturday, one has been declared a suspect by the police, while the other two were declared witnesses.
The police have said the suspect, identified as Muhammad Nur Zamzam, was connected to Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD), a local pro-Islamic State (IS) extremist group accused of launching the recent terror attacks in numerous areas in Indonesia, including in Riau province.
On Monday, scholars from Unri, located in Riau province’s capital of Pekanbaru, endorsed a declaration to “strengthen its commitment to combating” terrorism, radicalism and intolerance, which they considered as “activities that violate the law and intend to divide the NKRI”, referring to the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia.
Unri rector Aras Mulyadi said the university would take several measures to prevent radicalism from spreading within the institution, with one such measure being the intensive monitoring and controlling of student activities carried out at Unri.
“The recent event [the arrest] must be the first and the last to take place at Unri,” Aras said.
Police officers stand guard in front of a student facility building in Riau University in Pekanbaru, Riau province on June 2. Students and alumni often spend the night in such buildings.
Police officers stand guard in front of a student facility building in Riau University in Pekanbaru, Riau province on June 2. Students and alumni often spend the night in such buildings. (Antara/Rony Muharrman)
Educational institutions like universities had long been seen as places where people could freely conduct any activity, including “negative activities”, said Abdul Rasyid Jalil, deputy rector of Hasanuddin University (Unhas) in Makassar, the capital of South Sulawesi province.
“That is why we have intensified our monitoring of activities conducted in either departments or student extracurricular groups,” Abdul said.
Unhas has begun the intensified monitoring because many alumni are still involved in student organizations held inside the university compound, said Abdul.
Abdul said Unhas also prohibited activities from being held inside the university after 10 p.m.
The police’s initial investigation revealed that the suspected terrorists in Riau had stayed in the building for one month, during which time they allegedly constructed bombs and planned to blow up the Riau Legislative Council in Pekanbaru and the House of Representatives in Jakarta.
“There were explosive materials at the scene on campus. We deemed them to be dangerous, so the measures [to remove them] were taken when there was no academic activity going on inside the campus,” said National Police spokesman Brig. Gen. Mohammad Iqbal.
The arrests on Saturday showed that members of terror groups are approaching and recruiting students or academics at educational institutions, said Ridwan Habib, a terrorism expert at the University of Indonesia (UI) in Depok, West Java.
“These groups often use a personal approach to recruit those with prior links to other Islamic groups that have values similar to those they offer,” said Ridwan on Sunday.
Radicalism on campuses
Research, Technology and Higher Education Minister Mohamad Nasir told the Indonesian press recently that the government held data about universities whose students were exposed to radical ideas on campus. Since then, a list of seven top state universities has circulated, quoting the National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT) as the source.
The seven are: University of Indonesia, Airlangga University, Brawijaya University, Sepuluh November Technology University, Bandung Institute of Technology, Bogor Agriculture Institute and Diponegoro University.
Last year, the ministry said it planned to issue a regulation to control the spread of radical views on campuses. A search of regulations on their website on Monday, using the keywords “radikalisme” and “radikal”, did not reveal any results.
What the ministry and the BNPT meant about “exposure to radicalism” was radical teachings and persuasion by outside influences to join radical movements on campus.
However, terrorism expert Ridwan Habib said students and other members of academia exposed to extremist teachings were not necessarily part of a radical group or likely to become involved in terror acts.
Based on The Jakarta Post’s interview with Zamzam’s friend at Riau University, Zamzam was not a devout Muslim and was not known to have joined any Quran recital groups anywhere.
The friend, Syahrul Mubarak, who referred to Zamzam as Zega, said he knew Zamzam as they enrolled at the university in the same year and because both were members of the university’s mountaineering club. Syahrul said Zamzam had not been a devout Muslim until a year ago, and described him as preman mau insaf, loosely translated as a “repentant delinquent”.
Syahrul said Zamzam began to change when he read about Palestine’s fight for its own country and about IS on the internet.
“All of a sudden, he started bragging that he wanted to carry out jihad, talking about bombs and going to Syria. We, the friends who usually hung out with him, of course laughed at him,” Syahrul told the Post on Monday. “Don’t get us wrong, he is not a devout figure. He does not even pray five times a day. If there were people drinking together, he joined [them],” he said.
Syahrul believed the other two alumni arrested along with Zamzam were less likely to be involved in terrorist activities.