An Indonesian Extremist Trades Rifle For Spatula Between 2002 and 2009, homegrown Indonesian militants staged deadly attacks almost yearly. The story of one former terrorist-turned-chef — and his unrealized dreams of global jihad — help illustrate why terrorism hasn't flourished in the Muslim-majority country.
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An Indonesian Extremist Trades Rifle For Spatula

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An Indonesian Extremist Trades Rifle For Spatula

An Indonesian Extremist Trades Rifle For Spatula

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This is MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Steve Inskeep. Good morning.

Let's examine the struggle against violence in two very different majority Muslim nations. One is Egypt, where we report in a moment on sexual attacks against women.

MONTAGNE: We begin with a story from Indonesia of a man who gave up violence. Indonesia suffered for years from attacks linked to al-Qaida affiliates.

INSKEEP: More recently, many militants are in jail or dead, and a one-time terrorist has laid down his rifle in favor of a spatula.

NPR's Anthony Kuhn reports.


ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: Mahmudi Haryono cooks up a plate of ribs in the tiny kitchen in his four-table restaurant. It's in the city of Semarang, on Indonesia's main island of Java. He brings it out and serves it to a couple of soldiers in uniform.


KUHN: Haryono's calm and smiling now. But he admits that after getting out of jail a few years ago, serving men in uniform would have had him sweating bullets.

MAHMUDI HARYONO: (Through translator) Sometimes, I felt insecure. I thought that perhaps somebody wanted me to be rearrested, or maybe somebody was setting me up.

KUHN: After graduating from high school, Haryono visited an Islamic boarding school run by radicals. These turbaned men were among the very few Indonesians with personal ties to Osama bin Laden. They inspired him to wage jihad in Bosnia and Afghanistan. But he had no money and no way to get there. He felt that compared to their foreign counterparts, Indonesian jihadis were rather wimpy.

HARYONO: (Through translator) Yes, they implanted in me the values and the spirit of jihad. But if you look at the actual capability to wage jihad, we just didn't have it.

KUHN: He made it as far as the island of Mindanao in the Philippines. He eventually saw combat with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, Muslim separatists fighting the Philippine government. But two years later, the Moros made peace with Manila. So Haryono returned to Java, and at first opened a shoe store.

Haryono has mixed feelings about his experience. He says he feels no remorse about fighting in defense of his faith. It gave him a sense of accomplishment. But he says he does guilty about the double life he once led.

HARYONO: (Through translator) What I regret is that, in the past, I lied to my parents. I ran away without saying goodbye to them. I made up stories to tell them, which they believed, but which I knew were a lie.

KUHN: He was back in Indonesia, but he hadn't entirely put his past behind him. In 2003, Haryono was sentenced to 10 years in jail for terrorism. He claims he didn't know that friends had stored explosives in his store. Those explosives killed 12 people and injured 150 in an attack on the J.W. Marriott Hotel in Jakarta. Haryono was paroled five years later. That's when he met fellow reformed radical Noor Huda Ismail.

Ismail is now a social entrepreneur. He runs three modest restaurants that employ around a dozen ex-terrorists and school dropouts, including Haryono. He says helping to rehabilitate ex-terrorists works better than just punishing them.

NOOR HUDA ISMAIL: (Through translator) My kind of initiative can provide alternative approaches against violent jihadi networks - you know, using social enterprise, using a civil society approach.

KUHN: Sidney Jones is a counterterrorism expert with the International Crisis Group in Jakarta. She says that since 2010, Indonesian authorities have killed more than 50 suspected terrorists, and arrested hundreds more. Of course, new extremists are still being minted in Indonesia's jails and mosques. But Jones says that the country has generally avoided becoming fertile ground for terrorist organizations.

SIDNEY JONES: If you look at where terrorism takes place around the world. It's usually where you've got a repressive government - not true in Indonesia - occupation - not true in Indonesia - a war going on where local Muslims are dying.

KUHN: Also not true in Indonesia.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)

KUHN: Back in his restaurant, Mahmudi Haryono chops vegetables for his next customer. He's only 37, but he's been through a lot. He appears to be brimming with confidence and grateful for the chance to rejoin society.

HARYONO: (Through translator) Now I enjoy life. I'm happy with a wife and children, family and friends. Back then, life was full of fear. I only hung out with other jihadis.

KUHN: Anthony Kuhn, NPR News, Jakarta.

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