November 1, 2011
Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) was created by Abdullah Sungkar and Abu Bakar Ba’asyir, two Indonesian extremists who fled to Malaysia in 1985. In exile, the two men began dispatching fighters to join the growing ranks of international Muslim volunteers seeking to repel the Red Army from Afghanistan. It was during this period that Sungkar and Ba’asyir’s network established close ties with individuals who would later become associated with al Qaeda core and affiliated groups. Sungkar and Ba’asyir formalized their group as JI in the early 1990s and relocated to Indonesia in 1998 following the collapse of President Suharto after more than 30 years in power.
Although JI participated in local sectarian conflicts, a faction within the group had a more ambitious agenda and embraced Osama bin Laden’s global focus. Encouraged and enabled by al Qaeda core, this faction bombed Western tourist sites on the island of Bali in October 2002. Beginning in 2003, the faction began to split off from the original organization and form violent splinter cells. JI’s leadership had alienated these hard-line splinters by signaling their intent to reject violence—if only temporarily—in favor of religious outreach to build public support. As the splinters went on to perpetrate subsequent bombings, including three more in Bali in October 2005, they hardened Indonesian opposition to JI and catalyzed an aggressive campaign against the group. By 2011, the most high-profile of these splinters had been dismantled. At the time of this publication, the group’s formal leadership maintains its emphasis on religious outreach.