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Jakarta bombings: Why Indonesia's Islamist radicals attack

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"They sincerely believe what they did was right to defend other Muslims," Mr. Huda says, explaining the thinking of some of the young men indoctrinated at Al Mukmin. "That's what worries me."

An 'ivy league' school for militants

Huda says the atmosphere at the school, located in Ngruki, Central Java, is one of unquestioning obedience and constant warnings of foreign and Christian plots to harm Islam.

Some of the students became true believers and signed up for jihad (holy war). Others were simply naïve or didn't question their superiors when asked to do favors that later incriminated them in wider terror plots. (He recalls one acquaintance who simply gave his bank account to a man who later used it to organize a 2003 bomb plot on Bali that killed 202 people). "They were trained to be robotic and not to question," Huda says.

Still, Huda says that most of the students at Ngruki never participated in any militant activity, and that the vast majority's views grow more moderate, as his did, when they make contact with the wider world. But as long as militancy and hate are preached, some portion of students will act on that, says Huda.

Choosing a different path

"I used to think like them," says Mr. Huda of his teen years studying hard-line jihadism. "So I know that if I can change, why can't they?"

Huda went on to study communications at a leading university, work as a reporter for the Washington Post, and win a scholarship to Scotland's St. Andrews University.

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