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Insight: Indonesian school a launchpad for child fighters in Syria’s Islamic State

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Indonesian school a launchpad for child fighters in Syria’s Islamic State

Tom Allard

SUKAJAYA, Indonesia (Reuters) – Hatf Saiful Rasul was 11 years old when he told his father, a convicted Islamic militant, that he wanted to leave school and go to Syria to fight for Islamic State.

    The boy was visiting his father in a maximum security prison during a break from Ibnu Mas‘ud, his Islamic boarding school, Syaiful Anam said in a 12,000 word essay on his son and religion that was published online.

    “At first, I did not respond and considered it just a child’s joke,” he wrote. “But it became different when Hatf stated his willingness over and over.”

Hatf told his father some of his friends and teachers from Ibnu Mas‘ud had gone to fight for Islamic State and “become martyrs there”, Anam wrote.

    Anam agreed to let him go, noting in his essay that the school was managed by “comrades who share our ideology”. Hatf travelled to Syria with a group of relatives in 2015, joining a group of French fighters. Reuters spoke to three Indonesian counter-terrorism officials who confirmed the boy went to Syria.

    Indonesia is the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country and most of its people practice a moderate form of Islam. But there has been a recent resurgence in militancy and authorities believe Islamic State has more than 1,200 followers in Indonesia while about 500 Indonesians have left to join the group in Syria.

Drawing on court documents, registration filings and interviews with counter-terrorism police and former militants, Reuters has found that Hatf was one of at least 12 people from Ibnu Mas‘ud who went to the Middle East to fight for IS or attempted to go there between 2013 and 2016.

Eight were teachers, four were students.

    At least another 18 people linked to the school have been convicted, or are now under arrest, for militant plots and attacks in Indonesia, include the three deadliest attacks in the country in the past 20 months, according to counter-terrorism police and trial documents of convicted militants.

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