Indonesian financial intelligence specialists are lobbying their Southeast Asian counterparts to adopt a stronger regional approach to tracking the flow of terrorism funding, based on an existing cooperation model between Indonesia and Australia.
Cooperation with Australian authorities had resulted in both institutions detecting billions of rupiah suspected to have funded terrorism-related activities, said Agus Santoso, the deputy head of the Indonesian Financial Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (PPATK).
"After three years of cooperation, PPATK and Austrac (the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre) detected about 5 billion rupiah in money transfers from a suspected terrorist cell in Australia to Indonesia. We found out that there was a financial link between them," he told Asia Focus.
Agus said this could be a model for cooperation with financial intelligence units in neighbouring Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia and the Philippines to track the flow of money between Asean member states allegedly used to fund terrorism-related activities.
He said the work of the PPATK complemented that of Densus 88, the special counterterrorism force of the Indonesian police.
"What we do is to follow the money, while Densus 88 follows the suspect," Agus said.
Suspected terrorist cells have been known to move between Southeast Asian countries, especially in areas where the borders are porous, such as the island of Kalimantan, shared by Indonesia and Malaysia, and between the southern Philippines and Sulawesi island of Indonesia.
Indonesian militants also have been known to move around neighbouring countries on their way to or back from Syria where they have joined armed rebel groups including Islamic State. The number of Southeast Asian fighters who have joined ISIS is very small but it is become a growing concern as the Islamist terror group steps up recruiting.
"They travel through Malaysia, Brunei, Thailand or the Philippines before returning to Indonesia. They also take a similar journey through neighbouring countries before embarking to Turkey, from which they would try to enter Syria," Saud Usman, the head of the Indonesian counterterrorism unit BNPT told a foreign policy conference last month in Jakarta.
In September 2014, four men from China's ethnic Uighur Muslim minority group were arrested in Indonesia's restive region of Poso in Central Sulawesi on their way to meet Indonesia's most wanted terrorist, Abu Wardah Santoso.
Police said they had travelled across Southeast Asia through Cambodia, Thailand and Malaysia and somewhere along the way obtained the fake Turkish passports they used to enter Indonesia. A Jakarta district court in July found three of them guilty of conspiring with Indonesian militants and sentenced them to six years in prison.
"Past court rulings in terrorism cases also show that terrorism cells used their money to buy weapons in the southern Philippines," Agus said. "This is why we want to encourage Asean countries to cooperate in order to detect and uncover the flow and networks of terrorism funding."
Apart from buying weapons, terrorist cells also spend their money to buy explosives, to finance trips for paramilitary training and to support the families or widows and children of slain terrorists.
Funds flow from accounts belonging to foundations or individuals in Indonesia and are transferred abroad as a form of donation, said Ade Bhakti, executive director of the Jakarta-based Center for Radicalism and Deradicalisation Studies.
"Some of the money may be used to initiate activities that support ISIS and terrorism activities or to finance aspiring militants' trips to Syria to join ISIS," he told Asia Focus.
Muhammad Yusuf, the head of the PPATK, said his agency had been able to freeze 2.1 billion rupiah in funds from 26 accounts of individuals and entities related to al-Qaeda and the Taliban, under the terms of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1267.
This accomplishment resulted in Indonesia in June being removed from the list of countries that have a high risk of money laundering to finance terrorism activities issued by the Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering (FATF).
Yusuf said Indonesia had clearly shown compliance with Security Council resolutions 1267 and 1373 and the FATF recommendations.
The FATF in February 2012 said Indonesia showed a strategic deficiency because of its failure to comply with the FATF Special Recommendations on the adoption of an international convention on terrorism, criminalising terrorism funding and immediate freezing of assets belonging of individuals or entities listed by the UN as suspected terrorists.
Despite the success, Jakarta-based terrorism expert Rakyan Adibrata said Indonesia still did not have a system that could freeze a suspicious bank account without delay.
"It is being developed now, though. It would be a system that speeds up coordination between government agencies so they can get a warrant to freeze the accounts without delay to prevent the money from flowing further," he told Asia Focus.