Noor Huda Ismail is a 1991 graduate of the school who roomed with a number of boys who went on to join JI. He says that it's important to understand what's taught there if one wants to grasp, and ultimately undermine, the ideology behind these kinds of murders.
He's now a researcher and head of the Institute for International Peacebuilding, an Indonesian foundation that seeks to reintegrate Islamist fighters into mainstream society. He stays in touch with a number of JI's jailed activists.
"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."
The 1995 class was a particularly fertile one for terrorists. Asmar Latin Sani, a suicide bomber and one-time roommate of Huda's who helped murder 12 people at the Marriott in 2003, graduated that year. So did Muhammed Rais, who assisted in that first Marriott attack and whose sister married Noordin Top, the JI leader who Indonesian police say now leads a splinter group that arranged the latest attack and is their most wanted man.
Foreign plots and obedience
Huda says the atmosphere at the school 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 naive 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 2002 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.