SUKAJAYA, Indonesia (Reuters) – Hatf Saiful Rasul was 11 years old when he told his father, a convicted Islamic militant, that he wanted to leave school and go to Syria to fight for Islamic State.
The boy was visiting his father in a maximum security prison during a break from Ibnu Mas‘ud, his Islamic boarding school, Syaiful Anam said in a 12,000 word essay on his son and religion that was published online.
“At first, I did not respond and considered it just a child’s joke,” he wrote. “But it became different when Hatf stated his willingness over and over.”
Hatf told his father some of his friends and teachers from Ibnu Mas‘ud had gone to fight for Islamic State and “become martyrs there”, Anam wrote.
Anam agreed to let him go, noting in his essay that the school was managed by “comrades who share our ideology”. Hatf traveled to Syria with a group of relatives in 2015, joining a group of French fighters. Reuters spoke to three Indonesian counter-terrorism officials who confirmed the boy went to Syria.
Indonesia is the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country and most of its people practice a moderate form of Islam. But there has been a recent resurgence in militancy and authorities believe Islamic State has more than 1,200 followers in Indonesia while about 500 Indonesians have left to join the group in Syria.
Drawing on court documents, registration filings and interviews with counter-terrorism police and former militants, Reuters has found that Hatf was one of at least 12 people from Ibnu Mas‘ud who went to the Middle East to fight for IS or attempted to go there between 2013 and 2016.
Eight were teachers, four were students.
At least another 18 people linked to the school have been convicted, or are now under arrest, for militant plots and attacks in Indonesia, including the three deadliest attacks in the country in the past 20 months, according to counter-terrorism police and trial documents of convicted militants.
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Jumadi, a spokesman for Ibnu Mas‘ud, denied the school supported IS or any other militant Islamist group, or taught any extreme or ultra-violent interpretation of Islam.
Ibnu Mas‘ud is one of about 30,000 Islamic boarding schools, or pesantren, across Indonesia. Most educate students in Islam and other subjects, but a handful are linked to extremism and act as centers for recruitment, Indonesian police and government officials say.
“NOT OUR DOMAIN”
Ibnu Mas‘ud has been in existence for a decade, despite its links to militants.
Irfan Idris, the head of deradicalization at Indonesia’s national counter-terrorism agency, blamed weak laws and bureaucracy for the lack of action against such schools.
“Basically, it’s not our domain, it’s the religious ministry,” he told Reuters. “We have informed the ministry that you have a problem with Ibnu Mas‘ud.”
Asked about the school’s links to militants and why it had not been shut down, Kamaruddin Amin, the director general of Islamic education at Indonesia’s Ministry of Religious Affairs, said: “Ibnu Mas‘ud never registered as a pesantren.”
Jumadi confirmed the school was not registered with the ministry.
The local government, Amin added, “had requested an explanation regarding the status of their study but did not get a response.”
Jumadi confirmed recent discussions with local government officials about the school’s teaching. “We have no curriculum,” he said, a reference to the emphasis on teaching the Koran.
“We’re focused on the tahfiz, on memorizing the Koran, and the Hadith (the sayings of the Prophet Mohammad),” he said. “We teach students about the Arabic language, about faith and the history of Islam.”
Jumadi said Hatf studied at Ibnu Mas‘ud but he did not know the circumstances of his leaving. He said he was unaware of any staff or students traveling to Syria to join IS, other than three teachers and one student detained in Singapore last year.
Mustanah, a former student deported from Iraq in August, has told police several ex-students from Ibnu Mas‘ud had traveled to Syria, two counter-terrorism officials told Reuters.
Nestled in the foothills of Mount Salak, a dormant volcano, in the village of Sukajaya, 90 km (55 miles) south of Indonesia’s capital Jakarta, Ibnu Mas‘ud is a ramshackle complex of classrooms, dormitories and prayer rooms that hosts up to 200 students from elementary school to junior high.
A Reuters team entered the school in June but was not allowed to tour the premises and was eventually asked to leave.
Inside a mosque that forms part of the complex, young boys dressed in Arabic tunics and skull caps could be seen sitting in a circle holding their Korans, smiling and fidgeting as they waited for their lessons. In a courtyard, young girls were scampering about. They looked no older than five or six and were wearing headscarves. Source: Reuters
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