ISIS claims its ‘soldiers’ are responsible for prison riot in Indonesia

The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for a prison riot in Depok, Indonesia, south of the capital Jakarta.

The organization’s Amaq News Agency released several short statements as the uprising unfolded yesterday, saying that “fierce confrontations” were “taking place between Islamic State fighters and counterterrorism personnel inside” the prison. The jihadi propaganda outfit claimed that 10 counterterrorism officials were killed and another one captured. (Initial casualty reports published by the Associated Press and other media outlets indicated that five policemen were killed in the incident.)

Amaq then released a 26-second video purportedly showing the “corpses of the counterterrorism forces inside the prison,” with more than one victim sprawled out on the floor.

The Islamic State followed up with another official statement, reporting that “several imprisoned Khilafah soldiers in the prison of Depok city in southern Jakarta” had stolen weapons and surprised “the guards of the prison.” The jihadists “clashed” with the counterterrorism forces that arrived to help and “seized a quantity of automatic rifles” as spoils. Photos released along with the statement, including the one seen below, were intended to document these spoils. One image, which is not being reproduced here, allegedly shows the captured counterterrorism official.

Indonesian authorities were quick to dismiss the Islamic State’s claims. “The claim by ISIS was not true. This incident was just triggered by a trivial thing, about food from families,” police spokesman Muhammad Iqbal said, according to the Associated Press.

Some ISIS-related claims issued from Southeast Asia, and elsewhere, have been dubious. For example, the group assumed responsibility for an attack at the Resorts World Manila (RWM) in 2017 that authorities blamed on a robbery gone wrong.

However, the Islamic State did not provide a purported video and photos from the scene in Manila, as it has done in this latest instance. Assuming that the images are legitimate, it is not clear how the group would have obtained them if it didn’t have at least a digital connection to the perpetrators in Indonesia. The images are also not consistent with a “food fight,” which is how the press reported the authorities’ characterization.

The Jakarta Postdescribes the “mobile” facility as a “terrorist detention center,” thereby indicating that its inmates may very include those from groups affiliated with the Islamic State.

Indonesia has struggled at times to disrupt the operations of Islamic State loyalists who are behind bars.

As FDD’s Long War Journalpreviously reported, one such figure is a radical cleric named Oman Rochman (also known as Aman Abdurrahman). Rochman has established relationships with jihadists who went on to play key roles in Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s enterprise, including Bahrun Naim, a US-designated terrorist who has remotely orchestrated a string of terror plots in Indonesia.*

Despite the fact that Rochman has been imprisoned in Indonesia since 2010, he directed the so-called caliphate’s operations inside the country for months after Baghdadi’s caliphate declaration in the summer of 2014. Rochman was convicted on terrorism-related charges stemming from his support for a camp run by Jemaah Islamiyah, an al Qaeda-affiliated group. Al Qaeda is opposed to the Islamic State – vehemently so. However, as Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s cause began to mushroom in the summer of 2014, the Indonesian jihadist scene split between the two rival camps. Rochman went the way of the so-called caliphate.

Treasury designated Rochman as a terrorist in Jan. 2017, describing him as the “de facto leader for all [Islamic State] supporters in Indonesia.” From behind bars, Rochman has played a prominent role in recruiting for the group’s operations abroad, personally blessing the travels of some new recruits and even requiring them “to obtain a recommendation from him before departing for Syria.” He has acted as the “main translator” in Indonesia for the Islamic State’s propaganda, disseminating the organization’s media throughout the country. And he “issued a fatwa (decree) from prison in Jan. 2016 encouraging Indonesian militants to join” Baghdadi’s enterprise.

Rochman “authorized” the Jan. 14, 2016 attack in Jakarta from behind bars, according to Treasury. Four people were killed and more than 20 others injured. Just weeks beforehand, he ordered one of the terrorists responsible “to carry out [Islamic State] attacks in Jan. 2016.” Thus, Rochman provided a veneer of religious authority for the targeting of innocent civilians. Indonesian authorities grew wise to Rochman’s scheming in 2016 and placed him in a higher security facility, thereby limiting his contact with outsiders. Regardless, the threat posed by the Islamic State’s local network remains.

And as Rochman’s history demonstrates, jihadists loyal to the Islamic State in Indonesia have proven their ability to stir trouble for authorities even while imprisoned.

*The section on Oman Rochman in this piece was adopted from an analysis published by FDD’s Long War Journal in 2017. See: Indonesian authorities hunt Islamic State operative’s cyber recruits.

Thomas Joscelyn is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Senior Editor for FDD's Long War Journal.

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