Citation for Jemaah Islamiyah

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Barton, Greg . "Jemaah Islamiyah." In The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World. Oxford Islamic Studies Online. May 19, 2022. <>.


Barton, Greg . "Jemaah Islamiyah." In The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World. Oxford Islamic Studies Online, (accessed May 19, 2022).

Jemaah Islamiyah

Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) is a Southeast Asian jihādī terrorist group principally based and operating in Indonesia, but with a history of substantial cells in Malaysia, Singapore, and the Philippines. JI opposes all forms of secular, democratic government and modern nation-states. It works towards the eventual revolutionary toppling of the Indonesian state while simultaneously building small communities of (pure) Islam, jemaah Islamiyah, with the hope of establishing a theocratic caliphate first in Indonesia and then in greater Southeast Asia and beyond. JI was formally established in 1993 by Abdullah Sungkar and Abu Bakar Baʿasyir when the two radical Islamist preachers from Central Java were living in exile in Malaysia. Its roots, however, go back decades earlier to the Darul Islam (DI) Islamic-state movement of the 1950s in West Java, South Sulawesi, and Aceh.

Sungkar and Baʿasyir first began to work together in 1967 when they established an Islamist radio station in the Central Javanese city of Solo. Four years later they established Pesantren al-Mukmin. Unlike the vast majority of Indonesia's 20,000-plus pesantren (residential religious schools), al-Mukmin teaches a very narrow curriculum of religious subjects. Although most graduates of al-Mukmin have little or nothing to do with Jemaah Islamiyah or other terrorist groups, it is significant that many of the future leaders of Jemaah Islamiyah studied in this pesantren or at one of its dozen or so sister institutions.

In the 1970s Ali Moertopo, Information Minister, confidant of President Suharto and head of the Indonesian military's special operations unit (Opsus), led an elaborate sting operation to flush out potentially militant radical Islamists and DI remnants. Moertopo cited an alleged residual communist threat when appealing to radical Islamist activists to join forces in a group known as Komando Jihad. This operation leveraged growing campus-based Islamist activism in the 1970s and 1980s inspired by the translated writings of leading Middle Eastern thinkers linked to either the Muslim Brotherhood or Iran. In 1977 Moertopo's men arrested 185 Islamist activists. Sungkar and Baʿasyir were arrested in 1978, tried in 1982, and sentenced to nine years in jail, only to be released on appeal. In the meantime, the success of the Iranian Revolution in 1979 had proven inspirational in Indonesia. In hindsight it appears that Moertopo's Opsus campaign served to breathe fresh life into the Darul Islam networks in West Java and South Sulawesi and generally helped consolidate linkages between militant Islamists, laying a foundation for Sungkar and Baʿasyir to build upon.

In 1985 Sungkar and Baʿasyir fled Indonesia for self-imposed exile in Malaysia, styled as hijrah, with dozens of their supporters. Between 1985 and 1995 the pair recruited several hundred mujāhidīn to fight and train in Afghanistan. These men were assigned to the Southeast Asian section of the Saudi-financed Camp Saddah run by Rasūl Sayyāf in Afghanistan. In 1996 this training program was shifted to the Philippines, where several hundred JI militants were trained before the Philippine armed forces caused its partial closure in 2000. JI's training program was then dispersed to smaller camps in Sulawesi.

In late 1999 and 2000 JI sent some five hundred mujāhidīn to fight in the communal conflicts that had erupted in and around Ambon, Malaku, under the rubric of Laskar Mujahidin. These troops were very well trained and equipped and their presence probably increased the death toll in the conflict by many hundreds. Later, under the banner of Laskar Jundullah, the mujāhidīn moved into Eastern Indonesia's second conflict zone in Poso, Central Sulawesi.

In August 2000 Baʿasyir launched the Majelis Mujahidin Indonesia (MMI) at a rally in Yogyakarta. Many younger JI militants were outraged by this attempt at public diplomacy on the part of Baʿasyir.

JI has received operational funding and assistance from al-Qaʿida, facilitated by personal relationships established through training together in Afghanistan. Such friendships also connect JI with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) in the Philippines. The Afghan experience, together with contact with activists from al-Gamāʿa al-Islāmīyah (GI), the radical breakaway faction of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood responsible for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, inspired Sungkar and Baʿasyir to embrace a global vision for jihād and to break with DI. JI and GI share the same Arabic name.

JI's terrorist intentions became apparent only in late 2001 when documents found in an al-Qaʿida safe house in Afghanistan helped Singaporean authorities uncover a JI plot involving Singaporean cells planning attacks on foreign targets within the city-state. It was only after the bomb attacks in Bali on the night of Saturday, October 12, 2002, however, that the true extent and nature of the JI network became apparent. Within weeks of that incident and the almost simultaneous car bombing of the nearby Sari Club, diligent forensic work led to more than a dozen arrests, including key planners Imam Samudra and Muchlas.

Although the operation across Indonesia and the rest of Southeast Asia to disrupt and disable JI exceeded all expectations, JI was still able to carry out a series of significant further attacks. Between August 2003 and October 2005, three bombings in Jakarta and Bali killed a total of forty-four people, including three suicide bombers, and injured three hundred. The next two years saw no further attacks, but large caches of explosives, prepared suicide bombs, and weapons found during this time point to JI's intention to continue attacks.

Following the arrests of more than two hundred JI militants in late 2002 and 2003, it became clear that JI had also been behind a series of bombings and incidents in 2000 previously thought to be unrelated. These included the attempted assassination of the Philippine ambassador to Indonesia in August, bombing of the Jakarta Stock Exchange in September, and simultaneous bombings of thirty-eight churches and homes of priests in December.

With more than four hundred JI militants across Southeast Asia arrested since 2002, JI has been reduced to one-half of its then estimated two thousand militants. More cautious leaders such as Baʿasyir, recalling the damage done to GI's public standing by its murder of tourists at Luxor in November 1997, have long argued for JI to take a less provocative approach in Indonesia, and avoid large-scale violence in non-conflict zones. With the sudden death of the much more charismatic Sungkar in November 1999, Baʿasyir appears to have been unable to stop JI's younger bombing faction, led by Hambali, Azhari, Noordin Top and Imam Samudra. Circumstances may now force JI to follow the example of al-Gamāʿa al-Islāmīyah and the Muslim Brotherhood and, at least temporarily, to concentrate on social activism. In whatever name or form, however, JI seems no more likely to fade away quietly than the resilient Darul Islam movement from which it sprang.



  • Abuza, Zachary. Political Islam and Violence in Indonesia. New York, 2007.
  • Barton, Greg. Indonesia's Struggle: Jemaah Islamiyah and the Soul of Islam. Sydney, 2004.
  • Eliraz, Giora. Islam in Indonesia: Modernism, Radicalism, and the Middle East Dimension. Brighton, U.K., 2004.
  • Jones, Sidney, and ICG (International Crisis Group) Jakarta Office. Indonesia: Jemaah Islamiyah's Current Status. Asia Briefing No. 63, Jakarta/Brussels, May 3, 2007.
  • Jones, Sidney, and ICG (International Crisis Group) Jakarta Office. Jemaah Islamiyah in South East Asia: Damaged but Still Dangerous. Asia Report No. 63, August 26, 2003.
  • Jones, Sidney, and ICG (International Crisis Group) Jakarta Office. Al-Qaeda in Southeast Asia: The Case of the “Ngruki Network” in Indonesia. Asia Briefing No. 20, August 8, 2002; corrected on January 10, 2003.

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