Facebook Foils Terror Plot in Indonesia
By Daniel Zeevi
Facebook is a place where people share their thoughts, ideas and beliefs. Which means Facebook has become a go-to source of information for government organizations like the NSA. Sefa Riano, a suspected militant, didn’t try to hide his ideas and beliefs either, as authorities took interest in his recent status updates apologizing to his parents before telling them goodbye. Another post declares, “God willing, I will take action at the Myanmar Embassy, hope you will share responsibility for my struggle,” followed by a yellow smiley face.
Just days later Riano, who goes by the name Mambo Wahab on Facebook, was arrested around midnight in central Jakarta. Police say he and another man were on a motorbike holding a backpack carrying five low-explosive pipe bombs tied together inside. Riano is awaiting charges related to allegations that he plotted to bomb the Myanmar embassy as a protest to the persecution of Muslims in the Buddhist-majority Myanmar.
Obviously Riano caused his own downfall by publicizing his mission beforehand on Facebook, because Facebook and authorities are listening. But the problem is most terrorists aren’t going to make their actual plans known on Facebook, instead according to the AP, terrorist organizations are using Facebook in countries like Indonesia as a means of recruitment. Even though Facebook shuts down pages that promote terrorism as they learn of them, it’s still very easy to create a page and get a few thousand new followers and potential contacts real quick before getting discovered.
Fred Wolens, a Facebook spokesman, said the company bars “promotion of terrorism” and “direct statements of hate.” Where abusive content is posted and reported, Facebook removes it and disables the account, he said.
Gatot S. Dewabroto, spokesman for Indonesia’s Ministry of Communication and Information, said Facebook responds quickly when officials ask them to remove such content. But he added that after one page is blocked, others quickly spring up.
William McCants, a former U.S. State Department analyst who studies online Islamic extremism for the U.S.-based Center for Naval Analyses, said governments in many countries “are just waking up to the fact that the conversation (about extremism) is moving to newer social media platforms.”
“On Facebook and Twitter, you can really go after people who broadly share your ideology but haven’t really committed themselves to violence,” he said.
Sidney Jones, a Jakarta-based terrorism analyst from the International Crisis Group, said that although terrorists groups’ Internet use is growing, they still do most of their recruiting face-to-face at traditional places such as prayer meetings. She said Riano’s case is the first time she’s seen a group brought together by Facebook.
She said the site is a “really stupid” way to recruit new members because it lacks privacy and no systematic way to vet credentials. But she added that even amateurish efforts to commit terrorism can cause mayhem and must be taken seriously.
Ansyaad Mbai, head of Indonesia’s anti-terrorism agency, said Facebook has become “an effective tool for mass radicalization,” and that police need more authority to respond to online behavior.
“We can’t do it alone,” he said. “… Radical sermons and jihadist sites are just a mouse click away.”