Al Qaeda Sets Up Indonesia Relief Camp

Concern over radical relief group (CNN)

An extremist Islamic group with alleged al Qaeda links has set up a relief camp on Indonesia’s tsunami-stricken Sumatra island, raising concerns it could stir up sentiment against U.S. and Australian troops helping distribute aid. The Laskar Mujahidin group posted a sign at its camp that read — in English — “Islamic Law Enforcement.” Its members said Thursday they had been collecting corpses, distributing food and providing Islamic teaching for refugees in the predominantly Muslim Aceh province.

The presence of the extremist group, known for killing Christians in a sectarian conflict elsewhere in Indonesia, has generated fears that U.S. military personnel and other Westerners doing relief work could become terror targets.

It also underscores the fine line that foreigners, especially the U.S. military, must tread between being welcomed as Samaritans or viewed as invaders in a country where suspicion of outsiders runs deep. U.S., Australian and South Korean government officials said they were aware of security threats and were taking precautions. One major aid agency said its staff had been ordered not to fly in U.S. helicopters.

Analysts said Islamic terrorists known to operate in Indonesia would be foolish to try to attack anyone helping the hundreds of thousands of tsunami victims, because it could result in aid groups pulling out and sour the militants’ chances of building popular support. But they warned that radical groups helping the relief effort would also try to stoke anti-Western sentiment — and wait for an opportunity to attack if public support for outside help wanes.

An interesting development. Clearly, the terrorists realize that the massive Western humanitanian response to this crisis undercuts their propaganda.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. DC Loser says:

    Not really surprising. Many of the “radical” Islamic groups have their roots in providing social services. Hamas is a prime example. Their reputation for providing decent food and medical care, and their incorruptibility give them great suppport amongst their base population.

  2. LJD says:

    Yeah,”social services” like beheading infidels.

  3. DC Loser says:

    There you go again. Hamas isn’t Al-Zarqawi. At least you should get your terrorists straight.

  4. Timmer says:

    All week I’ve heard and read nothing but complaints that Islmamists didn’t seem to be doing anything for their own and now that they are…

    Just thought I’d throw it in there before someone else did. No…not gonna add anything too it.

  5. Kappiy says:

    James, your headline (“Al Qaeda Sets Up Indonesia Relief Camp”) is a bit misleading. Al Qaeda doesn’t have the capacity to set up any sort of relief operation.

    As the article states, Laskar Mujahidin–who have been active since the late 1990s–set up the camp. While there have been alleged informal contacts between Laskar Mujahidin and members of Al Qaeda over the past 6 years, they are not the same organization.

    The Islamic movement in Indonesia is rather decentralized and often beset by internecine rivalries. To suggest that Al Qaeda is behind this camp distorts the complex reality of the ties and simplifies the nature of the Islamisist threat in Indonesia.

  6. James Joyner says:


    Al Qaeda is merely an umbrella some many of which have been around for decades. My understanding is that Osama actually set up various social programs in the Muslim world for “hearts and minds” purposes.

  7. LJD says:

    Oops, sorry!
    I meant “social services” like blowing up busses full of school children.

  8. Bithead says:

    I’ve seen Kappiy’s reaction in several places, from several different people. They all seem quite wiling to abide these bloodthirsty idiots, so long as they’re operating under the banner of ‘helping those who need it’.

    It makes an interesting contrast to those who complain about faith based aid orgs being ‘hearts and minds’ efforts, here in the states.

    And what do you know… for the most part, they’re the same people.

  9. Kappiy says:

    James, I think rather than an “umbrella,” a better way of understanding the realtionship between these various groups is as a “network” or “web” whereby they may share common aims and sympathetic ideologies, but have distinct–and fluid–organizational structures. They may engage in short term alliances of convenience and even occacionally tap the same sources of funding; but there is no overarching bureaucratic control by one organization.

    Understanding this organizational distinction is essential in devising effective strategies at combating these various groups. To group them all together obscures the actual conditions of their operation and can lead to inneffective responses.

    It leads to flawed thinking–as exhibited by the comment posted by Bithead–whereby my explanation of organizational differences and independence between Laskar Mujahidin and Al Quaeda is somehow interpreted as being indicative of my willingness to “abide these bloodthirsty idiots.”

    Without positing any evidence to support his claim, Bithead repeats the false canard that “they’re all the same people.”

  10. Bithead says:

    Kappiy, You MAY want to go back and look at what I actually SAID and re-calculate accordingly.