In some respects, Indonesia might have seemed an easy target for the expansion of Al Qaeda-backed terrorism. With its huge Muslim population, it has porous borders and large regions of poverty. Militant Islamist groups, active in several Southeast Asian countries, have launched several attacks in Indonesia, including a 2002 nightclub bombing in Bali that killed more than 200 people, and on hotels in the capital of Jakarta in 2009.
But Indonesia’s brand of Islam is more moderate than that practiced in other Muslim states where Islamic extremists have been able to recruit. Though some militant groups have attempted to impose sharia law, they have gained little traction in Indonesia. Yudhoyono’s government presides over a mix of secular and Islamic minority groups that are largely peaceful.
The police force, especially its “Detachment 88” counterterrorism unit, has developed skills in intelligence and tracking that have hobbled terrorist plans. While some terrorists have been killed in firefights, authorities have captured more than 300, trying them in the courts, which sentenced them to jail or execution. A remarkable deradicalization program, using religion and soft persuasion, has redeemed some, a few of whom have appeared on television to apologize for their violent pasts. Although the Army was called in for the first time in October to hunt militants in north Sumatra, the government has largely maintained a sophisticated technique by the police to neutralize terrorists.