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Facebook broke Indonesia terror case

By Niniek Karmini

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, June 20 2013 8:49 a.m. MDT

In this June 19, 2013 photo, Indonesian children surf the net at and play games an internet cafe in Jakarta, Indonesia. The use of social networking to groom potential attackers is posing a new challenge to authorities in the world's most populous Muslim country that has been struggling to eradicate militant groups.

Tatan Syuflana, Associated Press

JAKARTA, Indonesia — Sefa Riano didn't try to hide his plans or his beliefs. A Facebook page that police traced to him is plastered with photos of bearded men in camouflage uniforms holding rifles and banners hailing "The Spirit of Jihad."

One status update in late April apologizes to his parents before telling them goodbye. Another declares ominously, "God willing, I will take action at the Myanmar Embassy, hope you will share responsibility for my struggle." It ends with a yellow smiley face.

Days later, police arrested Riano, whose Facebook name is Mambo Wahab, just before midnight in central Jakarta. Police say he and another man were on a motorbike carrying a backpack filled with five low-explosive pipe bombs tied together. Riano, 29, is awaiting charges related to allegations that he plotted to bomb the embassy to protest the persecution of Muslims in Buddhist-majority Myanmar.

A police investigator revealed Riano's connection to the page, which was still online Thursday, to The Associated Press. The investigator spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to talk to reporters.

The investigator said Riano caused his own downfall by publicizing his mission on Facebook, but added that police believe it was another Facebook page that drew him to radical Islam to begin with.

Police said a growing number of young people in Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, are being targeted for recruitment by terrorists on the social media site. More than one in four of the country's 240 million people are on Facebook, thanks in large part to cheap and fast Internet-capable phones.

While it is not clear how many terrorists are actually recruited through Facebook, the use of social networking to groom potential attackers poses new challenges for authorities struggling to eradicate militant groups that have been weakened over the last 10 years. Though Facebook shuts down pages that promote terrorism when it learns of them, police say new pages are easily created and some have attracted thousands of followers.

Muhammad Taufiqurrohman, an analyst from the Center for Radicalism and De-radicalization Studies who works closely with Indonesian anti-terrorism officials, said 50 to 100 militants in the country have been recruited directly through Facebook over the past two years.

He said there are at least 18 radical Facebook groups in Indonesia, and one of them has 7,000 members. Police said some sites where radical discussion takes place focus on Islam, while others engage in talk about committing violence, such as how to make bombs. Access is blocked unless group administrators allow users to participate.

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.

Indonesian police say Facebook is one of many places where they've found terrorist activity online. They have detected militants using online games for attack drills. A group was caught uploading propaganda videos on YouTube and terrorists are known to have purchased weapons using video calls, said Brig. Gen. Petrus Reinhard Golose, the director of operations at Indonesia's anti-terrorism agency.

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