The following are excerpts from an interview by Chino Gaston with Yusoph Andirima, the alias of a man who Indonesian authorities believed to have been part of a terrorist cell. He was arrested in 2003 with three other people and received a 10-year jail sentence, but was released in early 2009.
Can you tell us, why were you arrested?
We just helped to keep weapons and explosive materials. Those belonged to Mustofa (Abu Tholud)…and were packed in closed suitcases and placed in (the) house we lived in. We never asked (what they were). Mustofa rented a house for us to work in and for several months, he was bringing in those materials. We didn’t know what they were for, only Mustofa knew. We were asked to live in the house. It meant we just occupied the house.
Mustofa was a strange person to us. We didn’t know his background. I knew Mustofa for about one month before we rented the house. Later, slowly but surely, I learned that he was the one involved in the conflict in Poso (Ambon) and other places.
Why did you join him?
When we left Mindanao, we were asked by our guide to seek out Mustofa. You know, I had nothing when I came back to Indonesia. I was jobless for six months. People around me assumed I was rich, they thought I had worked in Malaysia. But actually I went to Mindanao (in the Philippine south). So, I met Mustofa in Kudus, Central Java (about 50 kilometres from Semarang). We agreed to work together. He gave me 16 million rupiah (about $1,900) as funds, along with some goods to be sold like mountain sandals, shoes, and others. Then I rented a house with three friends.
Did you have problems re-entering society after your release from jail?
At first, it was so difficult. I realised people could not accept me. My image as ex-prisoner, especially for a terrorism case, was so bad. I (kept thinking) what should I do? I tried to find some activities. Then the terrorist attacks happened – Aceh, the Marriott bombing, and others. I worried that I would be linked to these. As someone who had been convicted for involvement in a terrorism case, I needed to explain my position. I was re-interrogated by the police. They asked whether I knew any of the persons involved in the attacks. I said I knew several people (who could be involved in the Marriott bombing) when I was sent to Jakarta, but I also clarified that I wasn’t involved in the movement anymore.
How long were you in jail and what did you do inside?
The court sentenced me to 10 years in prison, but I got out early. I was in jail for less than six years. In prison, I gave spiritual advice to my fellow inmates. I felt most of them didn’t have good thinking. Some of them were stressed, so I gave them guidance based on precepts of Islam. But I had to stop that because a friend and I were each placed in isolation. There we could only study Al Qu’ran.
I was disappointed with the court. Mustofa, who owned the weapons and explosive materials was sentenced to only seven years. We got 10 even though we just helped keep those materials. I felt discrimination there. Besides that, there was different treatment between criminal prisoners and us, (those who were in for) terrorism cases. We were placed in special jail for two years. When we were moved to the regular prison, we hoped to meet other prisoners. But that didn’t happen because we were placed in isolation several times….Our family also experienced difficulty in visiting us. These made us disappointed.
Would you go back to the movement?
In my heart, I’m interested in the Moros (of Mindanao). This area, as I know it, has a supportive environment and system (for the cause). Officials and Muslim activists know when they must raise their weapons and when they should sit down together. The Islamic community is also great enough. It was different with Ambon or Poso. I believe the Moro (area) was a real jihadi area. There were fighting, diplomacy, intervention, and others (happening) there.
What about rehabilitation?
The way I see it, rehabilitation is simple. The most important aspect is giving the ex-prisoner many opportunities. It can be work in food courts, fishpond, publishing, or others. In terms of faith, we gained a wider perspective to observe (Islamic) community after our release from jail. I see things based on my experience in (Mindanao), another person sees it another way. Working is part of our struggle, especially in peace area. In conflict area, the attitude is different. We must work and also raise a weapon.
I was so confused about my future after being freed from jail. I was afraid of being rejected by people because of my ex-prisoner status. I tried and tried to explain my position to them. Then I had discussions with Hari Setya Rahmadi, a fellow ex-prisoner, and Noor Huda Ismail. Now my confidence is back, and Hari, Noor Huda, and I try to guide our friends who are still in jail to one day reconcile with the rest of society.
When Noor Huda writes a book, we give it to our friends. They must read it in order to get a different perspective. Then we visit them in jail, check how they are, and share our thoughts…. I think there are many ways to rehabilitate ex-prisoners, especially those with terrorism cases.
Is another attack possible?
When I was in jail, I find some people had different understanding (from each other). Some were Noordin M Top’s followers, others Azahari, Palembang Group, Aceh Group, and others. I thought we had different attitudes to interpret what the struggle was. So it is possible that another attack will happen. I know some friends sought out Noordin or the Azahari group or (yet another group) after their release from jail. But I don’t know what happened next.
What would you advise your friends who are still in jail?
I think the problem is belief. Some people have radical beliefs, other don’t. When Osama bin Laden speaks, it should be just learned, not practised directly. I cannot understand this belief. In my opinion, jihad can be practised in certain areas, like in Moroland and Afghanistan. In Indonesia, jihad cannot be practised by bombing or attacking.
Hari and I have the same beliefs. We can do jihad for small community, such as family. We have a simple example. When we were in jail, our family suffered a lot. That is why we must make their lives better. We will take great jihad in certain areas, in conflict areas.
To temper the radical attitudes of ex-prisoners, I think we need to share with each other. We can discuss cases in many perspectives. We can observe what kind of jihad can take place and how it will be done, and so on. I suppose suicide bombers have little belief. They don’t know the impact of their action.