An Indonesian official has urged the government to regulate homeschooling to prevent the radicalization of children following recent research into the minors involved in the 2018 Surabaya terror attacks.
On May 13 last year, two families carried out attacks at churches in Surabaya, killing a dozen people and children of the attackers. The following day a family carried out a suicide bomb attack on a police headquarters in Surabaya.
At least 28 people, including the attackers and their children, were killed in the explosions but the suicide bombers’ other children survived the blasts.
The attacks were blamed on Jamaah Anshar Daulah, an Islamic State-linked jihadist network.
In a twist last month, the wife of a suspected JAD member killed herself and at least one child in an explosion at her home in Sibolga, in North Sumatra, after refusing to surrender during a standoff with police, despite pleas from her husband, who had already been arrested.
Some of the children in the Surabaya families were homeschooled, raising concerns that some parents who homeschool their children may be doing so in order to indoctrinate them.
Bobby Adhityo Rizaldi, a member of the First Commission for Indonesia’s House of Representatives which covers Defense, International Relations and Military Affairs, said it is difficult to curb the radicalization of homeschooled children because homeschooling is not the only path towards radicalization, and it closes the door to a child’s socialization.
“But this modus operandi is now used by parents so that their kids do not learn the “Pancasila,” the official and foundational philosophical theory of the Indonesian state, which ‘pesantren-pesantren’ or religious schools are now teaching,” he told The Defense Post.
“But the government can make preventative efforts through the data collection of children and parents and if children are found to be unofficially schooled, the parents need to be questioned by the local government,” he said.
Bobby said new regulations related to child education controls are required and the government should be responsible for providing the legal basis for the matter.
“I also recommend that there be specific advanced research on the education system that can provide counter-narratives for children, so that they can choose which understanding to follow,” Bobby said.
“It will be the government’s consideration to regulate education in Indonesia and how to touch children in radicalized circles.”
“The core reason for radicalization is religion distorted by information produced by irresponsible parties. And this wrong understanding of religion brings about anarchist action. This should be studied. Formal education can be controlled but there should be a state monitoring of informal education.”
Bobby said some children are routinely shown ISIS propaganda videos which further radicalizes them.
“The children have been emphasized to keep quiet about family plans and radical groups who will carry out terror acts. This is affirmed by religious threats such as sin and Hell. If this understanding has entered a child, it is difficult to counter it,” he explained.
“Neighbors and social circles often do not want to intervene in home affairs, including child education, because it is an internal affair. Neighbors usually do not know the extent and characteristics of radicalization by which they know when to give feedback to the authorities about indications of radicalism they come across,” lamented the official.
Bobby was commenting on a paper entitled the “Involvement of Children in Radicalism and Terrorism Acts” published in February by the Center of Terrorism and Radicalism Studies (CTRS) at the Police Science College, an institution within the Indonesian National Police.
The paper was based on interviews with 30 people who had relationships or contact with the children of the Surabaya suicide bombers, including family members, neighbors, school teacher, homeschooling teacher, and the police department’s Women and Children Services Unit (PPA).
The study also discusses the children’s motivation to conduct suicide bombings, and reviews some factors that contributed to their involvement in terrorism.
The paper says the Surabaya incidents indicate that children and youth have a strong motivation to carry out “amaliyah” – the term jihadists use to refer to actions – by blowing themselves up with or without parent assistance, and posits that the children’s were motivated by their parents, the terror organization and the education method preferred by the parents.
The paper’s author, Ulta Levenia Nababan, a senior researcher at CTRS, said homeschooling had become a trend among radical parents, and that their children were aware of police surveillance.
“From my research on children who are being radicalized by their parents, they are forced to pursue their education through home-schooling,” she said. “It means the parents are free choose who will teach their children and set the study courses so the children will be taught about specific topics only.”
“The parents acknowledged the possible risk that their children were being watched by police surveillance. The children knew well that they needed to cover their parents and maintained the masquerade to deceive undercover police,” she told The Defense Post.
Ulta said that PPA officers said the “suicide bombers’ surviving children tended to not know or identify each other to deceive officers during interrogations into believing that they weren’t together in a radical organization and their parents were not linked.”
She added that if the children continue their study to the next level, they do not need the usual proof of graduation, but instead rely on some alternatives. To continue to an Islamic boarding school, they are only required to pass the religious-objective study such as the Quran and general knowledge of Islam.
“This kind of private education is out of the government’s control, so children who are educated privately are not questioned by the government,” Ulta said. “Today, radical parents avoid character building that is provided in general schools and teaches the children about nationality and other topics that are not to the radical parents’ liking.”
“The parents want to build their own radical and ISIS character into their children,” Ulta added.
“For extracurricular activities, the parents invited the children to their terror organization, where the children strengthened their radical knowledge and found their role models. Unfortunately, these organizational activities were out of the government’s sight. Although police were trying to control or monitor these through surveillance but have had limited capacity to stop the activities.”
The police’s roles are to stop those inside the terror organization from carrying out attacks. An attempt to prevent the radicalization of children, said Ulta, will be effective if only the police play their roles in the field supported by the central government through regulations implemented by the local branch government.
State school system also requires attention
Chaula Rininta Anindya, a research analyst at the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies in Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, said children who attend normal school like those of Tri Murtiono and Dita Oeprianto, the heads of two of the families killed in the Surabaya explosions, should be discussed too.
Chaula told The Defense Post “the loopholes in the current education system in which there is lack of discussion about religious tolerance and how to implement it in society” should be explored.
“The existing religious education curriculum is heavy on the practical forms of worship, such as the daily prayers and fasting, but limited discussions on how to promote religious tolerance,” she said.
Chaula said the underlying reason for recruiting children as soldiers is to gain strategic and tactical advantages.
“Recruiting children as soldiers is important to ensure the group’s survival in the long run,” she said. “Children are indoctrinated since they were born, and isolated from the counter narratives. It will instill their loyalty to the group and reduces the likelihood of betrayal.”
“Second, the use of children as combatants can trigger overreactions and exaggerations that the terrorist groups are seeking.”
“Almost all media outlets made a special coverage about the role of children in the bombings. Although children as suicide bombers is an old phenomenon in the other parts of the world, such as the Middle East, Indonesians considered it a relatively new issue.”
Since children are not expected to carry out suicide bombings, they can easily avoid surveillance.
“I personally think it is impractical to expect such regulations as the government cannot impose the regulations on all children who attend home-schooling,” she said.
The most feasible solution, according to Chaula, is to monitor children only after the government has information that their parents are affiliated with terrorist organizations.
According to an October 2018 report by the Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict, there is no indication that the Surabaya bombers or anyone in JAD was significantly more technically proficient than before the May 2018 bombings, or that it represented a major new skill transfer.
The bombs were all prepared with triacetone triperoxide or TATP, a highly explosive compound made of easily available materials that ISIS terrorists reportedly refer to as “Mother of Satan.”
“The ability of the families to pull off the coordinated attack may have been as much due to their unusual ability to keep secrets rather than their technical know-how,” said the report.