BOGOR, Indonesia (AFP) – Indonesia has said it will not bring home nearly 700 hundred nationals who joined Islamic State in the Middle East over security fears, but added it would still consider repatriating young children.
The issue sharply divided the world’s biggest Muslim majority nation with its president saying this week that he was not in favor of bringing back suspected militants and their families who went to Syria and other countries to fight for the group’s now crumbled caliphate.
Security affairs minister Mahfud MD said that some 689 Indonesians – including women and children – in Syria would not be allowed to return home due to security concerns in a country that suffered repeated attacks by ISIS-loyal groups.
“We’ve decided that the government has to provide security assurance to 267 million Indonesian citizens,” the minister said Tuesday, after a meeting with President Joko Widodo near Jakarta.
“If these foreign terrorist fighters return home they could become a dangerous new virus,” he added.
The government would consider repatriating children 10 years old or younger on a “case by case basis,” he added, without elaborating.
Critics of the plan said it was better to bring foreign fighters home and rehabilitate them instead of risking that they could be further radicalized abroad.
“If they’re not managed well by the government, there is a possibility they’ll be used as proxies by powerful groups that could threaten Indonesia and other countries,” said terrorism expert Taufik Andrie.
Indonesia has long struggled with Islamist militancy and the country hosts dozens of extremist groups loyal to ISIS and its violent ideology.
In 2018, family suicide bombers from the ISIS-linked group Jamaah Anshar Daulah detonated explosives in several churches in the country’s second-largest city Surabaya, killing more than a dozen people.
Last year, two militants also linked to ISIS unsuccessfully tried to assassinate Indonesia’s chief security minister Wiranto, while in November a suicide bomber blew himself up at a busy police station, killing himself and injuring at least a dozen people.