Suspecting terrorism, villagers force out boarding school

The Darul Akhfiyah Islamic Boarding School in Nganjuk, East Java has been shut down and its leader is in jail. Was it guilty of training terrorists or only of bad community relations?

By Michael Watopa for Khabar Southeast Asia in Nganjuk, East Java

December 12, 2012
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Residents of a village in East Java's Nganjuk Regency forced the closure of a school run by little-known Muslim group the Joint Islamic Society (Gabungan Masyarakat Islam or Gamis), fearing it prepares its students for terrorism.

  • Police officials in East Java cordon off the Darul Akhfiyah Islamic Boarding School in Nganjuk after local villagers suspecting the school was a terrorist training facility, marched to the facility and shut it down. Police took the students and the school's administrator in for questioning.  [Photos by Michael Watopa/Khabar]

    Police officials in East Java cordon off the Darul Akhfiyah Islamic Boarding School in Nganjuk after local villagers suspecting the school was a terrorist training facility, marched to the facility and shut it down. Police took the students and the school's administrator in for questioning. [Photos by Michael Watopa/Khabar]

  • Dozens of students from the Darul Akhfiyah Islamic Boarding School wait in a government building in Nganjuk, East Java November 14th after police received reports of suspicious activity at their school in a nearby village.

    Dozens of students from the Darul Akhfiyah Islamic Boarding School wait in a government building in Nganjuk, East Java November 14th after police received reports of suspicious activity at their school in a nearby village.

The school, Pondok Pesantren Darul Akhfiyah, had 49 teenage students at the time of its closing in mid-November, and had been in the town of Kepuh in Kertosono sub-district for two years.

To date, police have not confirmed whether the school had any link to terrorism, though its director was arrested for possessing multiple identity cards. But its military-style exercise programmes and its lack of communication with the community made residents suspicious.

"They always kept to themselves; so we did not know their exact identities," Didik, a 45-year-old Kepuh resident, told Khabar Southeast Asia.

"All this time, the pesantren has been shut off from the people around it," added Parto, 50, who lives across the street from the now-shuttered school.

Suspicious activities?

Residents went to the school en masse on November 11th to put a stop to its activities. Police swiftly intervened, evacuating the entire student body to the local police station for questioning.

In a search of the facility – a rented home – police found air rifles, knives, and other weapons, as well as books and a CD about jihad, according to the chief of the East Java Regional Police, Hadiatmoko.

"The knives usually were used to practice knife-throwing. They threw knives into trees behind the house. They practiced it every evening," he said.

In addition, students ran in the village before dawn, and practiced martial arts on the banks of the Brantas River, according to Budiarso, 66, head of the neighbourhood watch.

Locals had long ago reported their concerns about the group to the police, who had in fact been monitoring the school for six months before tensions came to a head.

But law enforcement officials could not yet say whether the community's suspicions are legitimate.

"We have reported this incident to the Indonesian Police Headquarters. So, to find out whether Gamis is related to terrorism, we are awaiting further investigation from police headquarters," Hadiatmoko said.

We are not terrorists

Sensing the potential for an outbreak of violence, police held the students at the Nganjuk Regional Disaster Management Agency (BPBD), where Khabar visited them on November 14th.

Khoirul, an 18-year-old-student, defended his classmates, saying that none of the school's activities were focused on jihad.

"We are not terrorists. We are in Darul Akhfiyah to learn the Qur'an," he said.

Khoirul said he was sent by his parents in East Java's Tulungagung Regency to study at Darul Akhfiyah. He found nothing strange about it, including the martial arts component.

"Martial arts is a sport," he said. "So, it's not something strange."

Jito, his 19-year-old classmate, said martial arts is only for exercise and a change of pace.

"The main activity is memorising the Qur'an. And martial arts provides a balance between the physical and spiritual," he said.

"Definitely, we are not terrorists," Jito added.

Later on November 14th, police released the students and told them to return to their respective homes, officials said.

School director arrested

In a statement through his lawyer, the head of the school Nasirudin Ahmad, 34, a native of Sukoharjo, Solo, defended Darul Akhfiyah.

"We do not teach terrorism, only religion and martial arts, like other pesantren," he said.

But Nasirudin was subsequently arrested for having four different identity cards, Hilman Thayib, spokesman for the East Java Regional Police, told Khabar.

"He is a suspect, and we'll detain him. We're digging to find out why he has four ID cards with different names, not just different addresses," Thayib said.

Nasirudin's lawyer, Achmad Rofiq, confirmed to Khabar that his client was taken into custody for questioning about his identity cards and could be sentenced to a maximum of two years in jail if found guilty of having multiple IDs.

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