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.
Poster for 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.