Online chatter in the Indonesian pro-Islamic State (IS) milieu on the death of IS’s ‘caliph’ Abu Ibrahim Al-Hashimi Al-Qurashi reveals the importance of IS supporters’ bai’at (pledging of allegiance) to the IS leader and how it may spark further attack plots in the country.
On 3 February 2022, Islamic State’s (IS) second so-called ‘caliph’ Abu Ibrahim Al-Hashimi Al-Qurashi was killed during a US-led raid in the outskirts of the town of Atmeh, Idlib province, Syria. He detonated a bomb that killed himself and his family at his house. Not surprisingly, the incident has garnered significant attention from IS supporters in Indonesia, a country where IS-inspired or instructed attacks have taken place and 639 of its citizens have joined the group. Drawing on the authors’ online observations as well as court documents of some pro-IS terrorists, this Insight examines the reactions of IS supporters to the death of Al-Qurashi and implications for the country’s threat landscape.
Based on the online reactions of some Indonesian IS supporters regarding the news of Al-Qurashi’s death, the supporters can be categorised into three camps – acceptance; wait-and-see; and rejection. The first camp consists of supporters who believe the news and immediately congratulated Al-Qurashi’s ‘martyrdom’. The second camp consists of cautious supporters who appear to be waiting for formal announcement from official IS media e.g. Al-Furqan, Amaq News and Al-Naba’, therefore neither denying nor accepting the death of Al-Qurashi. The third camp, which forms the majority, comprises those who reject the news outright.
The acceptance camp notes that IS may soon confirm the news as this had occurred in the past when IS announced the death of its first so-called ‘caliph’ Abu Bakar Al-Baghdadi after it had been reported by the mainstream media. The wait-and-see as well as rejection camps share the same underlying distrust of the mainstream media regarding its reportage of Al-Qurashi’s death. They would only trust official IS media, regarding it as the authoritative and trustworthy media when it comes to reporting news and developments related to IS instead of the mainstream media which it deems as kuffar (disbelievers). This was reiterated in the 324th issue of IS’s official newsletter Al-Naba, for instance, which warned IS supporters not to trust the mainstream media.
Notwithstanding their disbelief, the scale of discussions surrounding Al-Qurashi’s death has declined as supporters were advised to refrain from posting on social media on the death of Al-Qurashi prior to IS’s official announcement.
The IS Bai’at
The reactions highlight the importance of the bai’at (pledging of allegiance) for many IS supporters. It is significant that the name of their ‘caliph’ is specifically mentioned in the bai’at along with the obligation to listen to and obey him in times of both hardship and ease. Such allegiance applies as long as the ‘caliph’ does not evidently perform kufr (an act of disbelief). Consequently, the renewal of the bai’at is required when there is a change in IS’ leadership. As is evident in the court documents of some pro-IS terrorists, IS supporters had renewed their bai’at after Al-Qurashi succeeded Al-Baghdadi. The Indonesian IS supporters have conducted bai’at in a group or individually. The latter’s practice is to recite the bai’at text aloud or mentally; or post a bai’at text in a closed group on social media. They typically conduct bai’at several times, including when there is a change of the IS ‘caliph’, and prior to conducting an attack. Amidst the absence of IS’s immediate announcement following the death of Al-Qurashi, the wait-and-see and rejection camps intentionally posted bai’at texts dedicated to Al-Qurashi, defying mainstream media news on his death and reinforcing their belief that their ‘caliph’ is still alive.
By way of contrast, the name of the amir (leader) of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), an established pro-Al Qaeda militant group in Indonesia, has not been mentioned in the bai’at performed by its members. In fact, most JI members only knew that Parawijayanto is their amir following his arrest in mid-2019. JI’s counter-intelligence strategy – named TASTOS (Total Security System and Total Solution) – mandated the secrecy of the amir’s identity for his and the group’s safety.
Once IS confirms Al-Qurashi’s death and announces the new ‘caliph’, it is expected that first, the supporters will renew their bai’at via online and offline means. There is precedent for this- a special meeting was conducted by a pro-IS Jamaah Ansharud Daulah (JAD) cell that was based in Yogyakarta in the aftermath of IS’s confirmation of Baghdadi’s death and announcement of Al-Qurashi as the new ‘caliph’ in the last quarter of 2019. As not all militants have been active on social media or followed IS’s official releases closely, the information on the succession of IS’s ‘caliph’ was delivered by their group leader who subsequently guided members in renewing their bai’at.
Second, IS’s narrative will likely continue to draw new supporters even after the death of their second ‘caliph’, as was the case following the death of al-Baghdadi. Several groups had emerged and held their first bai’at to Al-Qurashi instead of Al-Baghdadi. They were, among others, MAT (referred by members as Mujahidin Anshor Timur or Muhajirin Anshar Tauhid) which had some members based in West Java; and a JAD branch in Haya, Central Maluku. The latter was led by Abu Bakar Tauhan and was part of a larger JAD network helmed by Zulfiqar Rahman who aspired to build a tamkin (secure base) in Seram, Maluku called Daulah Wilayah Indonesia Timur (Islamic State of Eastern Indonesia Region).
Lastly, IS supporters remain the most committed elements in the country who may resort to violence in the short term despite JI forming a significant portion of terrorist suspects arrested last year. IS supporters remain bound by their bai’at which demands obedience to their ‘caliph’, who in June last year still called for intensification of attacks around the world. This is in contrast with the majority of arrested JI members in recent years who were not involved in domestic attack plots, in line with the instruction of the JI’s amir that forbade members from conducting an attack in Indonesia.
In conclusion, the online reactions surrounding the death of Al-Qurashi reflect that, despite setbacks, IS does not seem to have suffered a deficit of trust among its supporters in Indonesia. Most importantly, until there is an official IS announcement confirming Al-Qurashi’s death, the members’ adherence to their bai’at to Al-Qurashi implies continued compliance with his instructions on continuing their violent activities.
V. Arianti and Unaesah Rahmah are Associate Research Fellow and Research Analyst respectively at the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research (ICPVTR), a constituent unit in the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore.