On February 24, 2012, the United States classified Jemaah Anshorut Tauhid (JAT) as a terrorist group. While Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa tried to downplay this issue, declaring that the "US decision only applies in the United States, Mr. Bashir himself probably does not relish this attention, as he found his sentence reinstated back to 15 years by the Supreme Court, overturning the High Court's earlier decision to slash his sentence to 9 years.
Not surprisingly, many, including Bashir, saw this reinstatement as the Indonesian government bending to the US pressure.
Yet, the remarkable thing about this decision is that it was greeted with a collective yawn in Indonesia. A few newspapers that carried this news buried it somewhere in the middle sections. For many, the United States seemed to be beating a dead horse, as the organization has been in decline ever since indications of its involvement in the Cirebon Mosque Bombing.
Apparently, the public and the media are far more interested in the stories on the corruption within the ruling Democratic Party, with a brief interruption, of course, by the rumor of a possible coup that was first spread by the Democratic Party itself.
As I mentioned in my earlier posts on Abu Bakar Bashir's lengthy sentence and the sentence reduction, Mr. Bashir's popularity has long been declining. As this excellent report from the International Crisis Group noted, even his popularity had declined among other radical groups, such as Majelis Mujahidin Indonesia, in which he was previously had the rank of amir, the commander/leader of the group. With many questioning his leadership style, he decided to create JAT as a way to remain in control of the jihadi movement.
But this begs a question: is JAT the new JI? Yes and no. JAT in essence is a splinter of JI under Abu Bakar Bashir. JAT consists of many people in JI, though it has to be stressed that Abu Bakar Bashir is also one of the leaders of the JI. As a spiritual leader, Abu Bakar Bashir has knowledge of but isn't in total control of the organization. In fact, JAT had criticized JI for their lack of inaction in the past few years, as the JI members became demoralized after the death and imprisonment of many of its leaders, and ended up doing jihad through pen, writing radical tracts, books, etc., rather than taking up arms.
Still, this does not mean that Abu Bakar Bashir will openly fight Indonesia. JAT itself spent much of its resources doing preaching, recruiting radical terrorists, and running a secret military training camp in Aceh that was supposed to only provide some basic martial arts and physical fitness.
But here again, Bashir ran into problems. First, even though he was the main leader of the JAT, he could not completely control the group, just as he couldn't completely control JI. The problem with radical organizations like JAT is that it tends to attract, well, the radical elements in society that would prefer using violence. While these people also tend to be charismatic and able to recruit lots of followers, they are also hard to control, as evident in the church bombing in Solo and mosque bombing in Cirebon, which were done by terrorists with links to the JAT.
The mosque bombing is the main reason why Bashir and JAT's popularity plummeted. Even though the mosque is located inside the regional police headquarters, it was basically a breach of a taboo to attack a mosque. Thus the crackdown on JAT, and the arrest on the Abu Bakar Bashir: the goal was to chop the head off the snake.