PORONG PRISON, INDONESIA— A sweeping crackdown on terrorism in the past decade has spawned a new problem in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation: Militants in prison are recruiting more followers to their cause.
Prisons threaten to undermine the progress made against terrorism since 2002, when nightclub bombings killed 202 people, many of them Australians and Americans, on the tourist island of Bali.
The campaign has assumed global importance because of feared links between Southeast Asian terrorist groups and al Qaeda. That threat was underlined by the January arrest of Bali bombing suspect Umar Patek in Abbottabad, the same Pakistani town where Osama bin Laden was killed in May.
The Associated Press was granted two days of unfettered access to Porong prison in early June by the chief warden, who wanted to show that changes were being made to limit the influence of jihadist inmates.
Porong is a huddle of low concrete buildings set on 40 acres near Surabaya, the country’s second-biggest city. It is home to 27 terrorists, some of the 150 being held in prisons across the sprawling Indonesian archipelago.
Block F is technically reserved for terrorists but also accommodates about 50 others because of overcrowding. The prison, designed to hold 1,000 inmates, has 1,327.
An elaborate green garden flourishes in the thick heat. Bearded terrorists tend ducks, and fish splash in small ponds. Some militants play sports with other inmates, while others read the Koran or teach Islam to other prisoners.
“We only explain what they should know about jihad,” said Syamsuddin, who is serving a life sentence for his role in a gun attack on a karaoke club in Ambon that killed two Christians in 2005. “It’s up to them whether to accept it or not.”
Muhammad Syarif Tarabubun, a former police officer, was sentenced to 15 years for his role in the same attack. He said he plans to join a jihad in Afghanistan, Iraq or Lebanon after his likely early release in 2013 for good behavior.
“The death of Osama bin Laden will not ruin our spirit for jihad,” he said. “We do it not for a figure. We do it for God’s blessing.”
In Indonesia, some radicals finish their sentences with an even greater commitment to deadly jihad. Of 120 arrested and 25 killed in raids since February 2010, 26 had previously been in prison for terrorist acts, according to the International Crisis Group, which researches deadly conflict.
“It’s going to undermine everything that the police are doing to break up these networks,” she said.
Porong prison, though immaculately clean and far from grim, has ceilings that leak copiously during the rainy season and allow swarms of mosquitoes inside at night. Inmates are allowed out of their gray windowless cells from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Within Block F, a small shop is a favorite gathering place.
Nearby, nine men wearing traditional Muslim shirts sit on a floor listening intently to a religious lesson by Maulana Yusuf Wibisono, who stockpiled explosives for a 2004 suicide bombing of the Australian Embassy in Jakarta that killed 10 people.View Entire Story
By Mark Mix
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