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Mom vs. ISIS: Indonesian Student Torn About Going To Syria

Teuku Akbar Maulana, saved from ISIS
Teuku Akbar Maulana, saved from ISIS
Ade Irmansyah

JAKARTA Teuku Akbar Maulana, 17, is from the westernmost Indonesian province of Aceh. He was a brilliant student and was offered a scholarship to study in Turkey. Akbar left for the Turkish city of Kayseri in 2013 to attend the International Imam Khatip High School but grew tired of it after a few months.

"We were studying something that I had learned before so I wasn't getting what I wanted," he says.

Bored, Akbar, who was 15 at the time, started to spend more time on social media, including Facebook. His feed was flooded with brutal videos of what was going on in neighboring Syria. There was even a post from his Indonesian friend, Yazid, proudly carrying an AK-47 rifle. Yazid had joined terror group ISIS.

Akbar says he found ISIS quite alluring at the time. "They have a slogan: "This is the land of men". So indirectly they want to say, you're not a man if you are not here. So we feel challenged. And a teenager needs a challenge," he says.

The stream of videos from Syria made Akbar want to cross the border into the country to join the extremist group even though he knew little about ISIS or what was happening in the Middle East at the time.

Akbar searched for someone to take him to the Syrian border. He met Noor Huda Ismail, an Indonesian terrorism expert, in a kebab shop in 2014, hoping he would help him. As they got talking in his native Indonesian tongue, Akbar remembered what his parents told him, especially his mother who had expressly forbidden him from going to Syria.

"The most important thing was that I thought of my parents, especially my mother. What if I went there and then died? Regardless of whether God receives us or not, our parents would be so sad. Then I was thinking whether that was right according to God or not, about how God could bless us when our parents wouldn't," Akbar remembers.

Akbar canceled his trip to Syria and returned home, where he joined Ismail on a different project — making a documentary film entitled Jihad Selfie.

Speaking from Jakarta, Ismail says that ISIS is increasingly using social media like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube to recruit new members. The militant group targets impressionable teens, he says: "Those children are smart, knowing very well the Koran, but they're also tempted by ISIS. On social media there are evocative images of masculinity that encourage them to join."

Ismail estimates that around 500 Indonesians have joined ISIS in Syria. To prevent more from joining the jihadist group, parents need to speak to their children, he says.

"The emotional connection and happiness within the family can beat social media. So if there are problems on social media, children can get a second opinion from their parents," says Ismail.

"Unlike Akbar, three people who went to Syria, they were looking for a father figure. One was not close to his father, who is soldier, one of the boy's father died and another was a victim of polygamy," Ismail says.

Today Akbar has a different understanding of jihad. He wins sporting competitions and has written his first book entitled, Boys Beyond the Light, about how he was tempted to join ISIS but decided against it.

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

War Of Attrition, Western Fatigue, U.S. Election: Clock Is Ticking On Ukraine's Fate

Russia is hoping that the West’s support for Ukraine will begin to falter. Kyiv knows this, and is therefore trying to obtain long-term aid agreements — which have the potential to determine their future. But the current Poland-Ukraine row is a troubling sign.

Photo of Ukrainian soldiers on a reconnaissance mission at an undisclosed location in Ukraine.

Ukrainian soldiers on a reconnaissance mission at an undisclosed location in Ukraine.

Piotr Andrusieczko


WARSAW — It's been four months since the Ukrainian Armed Forces mounted their counteroffensive in southeastern Ukraine. The fighting is extremely difficult, and Ukrainian soldiers must make their way through kilometers of mines and fortified lands occupied by Russia.

Few would argue that Ukrainian army’s effort would be more effective if they had modern planes, including the F-16 fighter jets they were promised after several months of negotiations (they will receive the first ones in 2024, at earliest). Ukraine is also seeking long-range missiles: whether a U.S. arsenal of ATACMS missiles, which have a range of 300 kilometers, or Germany's Taurus cruise missiles with a range of over 500 kilometers. For now Washington and Berlin have balked on delivery.

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There was more bad news this week for Kyiv amid a dispute over grain exports with its neighbor and ally Poland, which announced that it wouldn't send new weapons systems to Ukraine, though it will continue to fulfill its existing deals.

But Kyiv has also been facing problems with arms that it has already been promised. In a recent interview with CNN, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that it's now been months that many of the arms Ukraine has been promised have been in an “on-their-way” status.

The Western supplies of arms to Ukraine are not only key to helping their efforts in the counteroffensive. Russia, having a numerical advantage, is trying to wage a war of attrition: wearing down Ukraine until its army has no choice but to collapse. For Radosław Sikorski, a Polish member of the European Parliament, who took part in the recent Yalta European Strategy (YES) conference in Kyiv, said the West must remember what's at stake even more when the battle hardens.

“It’s paradoxical that the human willingness to help is strongest when the victim of aggression is successful, but as soon as they start to have problems, it falls," Sikorski said. "But it is exactly this logic that we must be opposed to. Now is exactly the moment to show our true character: that we are with Ukraine until the end, and not only when things are going well.”

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