Abdul Rahman Ayub was once a hardened jihadist who trained for combat in Afghanistan under Osama bin Laden, and fought in the southern Philippines. In 1997, Abu Bakar Bashir sent him to Australia to develop a Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) branch there.
It was in Australia that he began to deradicalise after being exposed to points of view that challenged JI's ideology. He was disgusted by the 2002 bombings and that year chose to return to his homeland, where he remained in hiding for several years.
He now leads a peaceful life with his two wives and seven children in Pondok Aren, South Tangerang, selling pastries outside area mosques. Despite his past, he has never been directly linked to an act of terrorism. A cleric and Islamic teacher, he also serves as a deradicalisation expert and is often invited to assist the National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT).
During a recent trip to Sulawesi, he spoke to Khabar Southeast Asia about his life and ultimate rejection of terrorist ideology.
Khabar: Since when, why, and how were you involved with the hardliners?
Ayub: I was first involved in terrorism when I was at sophomore in high school in Jakarta in 1982. Like many other young men, I was an idealist. I wanted Indonesia ruled according to the Qur'an. I rebelled against injustice by the Indonesian government. I was 17 years old and had no role models. I was blindly following a group and I didn't know whether the group I joined was a radical group or what was known as a terrorist group.
Khabar: How did you become involved with hardliners?
Ayub: I wanted to be a preacher. Dakwah (preaching ) is actually a good thing in Islam. However, a few people have been using dakwah as a terrorist recruitment method. My friends and I joined Indonesian Islamic State (NII) in Jakarta.
Khabar: How did you receive your militant training?
Ayub: NII recruited me. But at that time, there was not any militant training. In 1986, NII asked me to meet with Bashir . After the meeting, I was invited to join the organisation. There, I was totally indoctrinated. I idolised them, and was taught the Indonesian government was infidel, and I had to fight the government.
Along with 42 other members of JI , including Nasir Abbas , Ali Ghufron, and Hambali (the mastermind of the 2002 Bali bombing ), I was sent to Malaysia to participate in physical training to prepare for Afghanistan. In the same year, after completing several months of physical training, we were sent to Afghanistan .
We were trained by Afghan mujahid in Afghanistan at the Ijtihad Islami Abdul Rasul Sayaf Camp, led directly by Osama bin Laden . I was his soldier.
We learned combat, how to use everything from light arms to heavy weapons. We also learned to assemble bombs. This training was very intense. If you were unable to follow the instruction, you were returned home. I passed the training and graduated in 1989. I was then the deputy commander of the Indonesian soldiers. My (then) commander Abu Tholud aka Mustafa, is still serving a prison sentence in Semarang.
After that, I was still serving as a preacher. I was viewed as a successful preacher. When my passport and visa expired, I was returned to Indonesia in late 1991.
When I arrived in Indonesia that year, my purpose was to form a new group to bring to Afghanistan for training – because my period of duty had not ended. But before I had time to recruit and send new members for training in Afghanistan, I was asked to go to Moro, Philippines for jihad. I was not directly involved while in Moro. However, I managed everything that was used by the Indonesian jihad activists in JI. After several years in a managing role, I was sent to Australia byAbu Bakar Bashir to be the leader of JI Australia.
Khabar: What made you decide to leave terrorism? What was the process?
Ayub: After a long journey and ending up in Australia to establish JI, I started receiving opinions from several sheikhs and scholars. Australia was very open to the sheikhs and scholars who came from Medina, Mecca , and Jordan, so I had direct communications with them.
In addition, I also received input from the internet via mIRC and Fall Tocka chat technologies and other social media. From there, I received a lot of feedback and advice that what I had been pursuing was not right, which was the hardline or radical way.
I initially opposed them and fought their input and advice. But as it turned out, they understood my organisation better and were able to give me sound arguments and examples. They proved that my organisation was wrong. My organisation's goals of Islamic teaching and Islamic sharia were noble. However, my organisation forced their interests and caused violence.
From there I started doing my own research and found what I had been following was wrong.
But more than anything, my family is my biggest support and reason for leaving terrorism. In 2002, I decided to repent and returned home to Indonesia to meet my children and family, and to preach the correct teachings according to Islam. That year, I repented and lived by the correct teachings of true Islam in Australia.
The 2002 Bali bombings were perpetrated by Amrozi, Imam Samudra, and Muchlas, and were masterminded by Hambali. The Bali bombings were an Osama bin Laden project assigned to Hambali when Hambali returned to Indonesia from Afghanistan. Initially, Osama bin Laden offered those assignments to me when I was still in Afghanistan, but I declined them. In the end, Hambali took those assignments and carried out the first and second Bali bombings.
Khabar: Have you ever received threats from other "mujahid" over your decision?
Ayub: No threats, just that they were disappointed in me, especially Bashir.
Khabar: Have you joined the deradicalisation programme initiated by the government?
Ayub: BNPT and the community helped me. They helped me to engage with my people and to give me an opportunity to share my experiences especially to prevent those innocent youth from joining terrorism.
Disengagement can be done in a short time. But deradicalisation is a long process. Consistent feedback and advice on the truth about Islamic teachings would turn them to the right path. The most important thing the government should do is prevent new [terrorist] roots from forming in the community.
Khabar: What are your goals and expectations since leaving the hardliners?
I hope the false teachings of the militant group will no longer circulate in our country. Once again, it is important for the government to anticipate and curb them. The trick, of course, is focusing with religious programmes and other good processes.
Khabar: What do you think about ISIS?
Khabar: What is your advice for young Indonesians to avoid ISIS?
Ask your cleric about the truth of Islam; learn more about it. Be careful joining hardliner groups. More importantly, learn carefully about jihad and the Qur'an. Do not be misled.