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Starting young: JI targets schools

By Amy Chew for CNN

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JAKARTA, Indonesia -- Documents seized by Indonesian police in recent months suggest the extremist Jemaah Islamiyah group is targeting some 140 religious boarding schools in the country in a bid to spread its brand of militant teachings.

Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), the terrorist group blamed for last year's devastating Bali blast that killed 202 people, is also suspected of being behind last week's car bomb attack at the Marriott hotel in Jakarta.

The documents seized showed JI has been eyeing religious boarding schools, or pesantrens, in densely populated Central Java, which has a large rural population.

"Documents seized during the recent arrests of JI members had the names of 141 pesantrens and 388 Muslim clerics written down as targets to be imbued with their ideology," Central Java police chief Didi Widayadi told CNN by telephone.

"Their target is to infiltrate these pesantrens and to gain their support," he added.

Many JI militants have been trained in Afghanistan and in the southern Philippines in camps run by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

"They (JI) members are prepared to die and are willing to commit terrorist acts anywhere in the world. Their teachings are not just a problem here but also in the rest of the region," Widayadi says.

In Indonesia, pesantrens penetrate into the poorest, remotest parts of the country which are beyond the reach of state schools.

Pesantrens are more than just religious boarding schools -- they are a way of life in rural Indonesia built with money from the rural community.

They fill the vacuum caused by the failure of state institutions to provide basic education, instilling in the young good moral values.

The majority of Indonesia's pesantrens espouse moderate Islamic values and are culturally identical with the country's largest Muslin organization, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), which claims 40 million followers.

The NU is renowned for its moderate and inclusive brand of Islam which predominates in Indonesian society.

"It will be very difficult for JI to penetrate the pesantrens as culturally and historically, Muslims in Indonesia dislike extremism," Syafiq Alil'ha, a student of Islamic studies, told CNN.

"Islam in Indonesia is eclectic, a mixture of Hindu, Buddhism, animism and local culture," says 28-year-old Syafiq, a graduate of a pesantren in Tuban, Central Java.

Asked whether he would personally be drawn to a movement like JI, he said,"no, because I really understand my religion.

"In the Koran, it says a man cannot punish another man unless he is proven guilty of killing someone and the word used is "punish, not "kill" as is often espoused by the radicals," he says.

In an attempt to foil JI's attempts to recruit from the pesantrens, Widayadi recently gathered Muslim clerics from all over Central Java to warn them against radical teachings.

"I told them to be on the look-out for radical teachings and to remind them not to allow people to make use of the good name of Islam to commit wrongful acts," he said, adding that his words were well-received by the Muslim clerics.

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