Three church bombings in Surabaya during Sunday services, killing at least 18 people and wounding more than 40, and the bombing of a police station in the same city yesterday killing 10 are merely the latest manifestations of an increase in terrorist activity in Indonesia.
Attacks on two other churches were planned for Sunday, but those bombs failed to detonate. The church attacks apparently were carried out by members of one family. Yesterday’s attack involved members of another family.
Churches are targeted by Indonesian extremists who oppose the practising of other religions there. But this is the first attack on places of worship since 2011. The worst attack on churches in the past 20 years was on Christmas Eve 2000, when co-ordinated bombings of churches in Jakarta, Pekanbaru, Medan, Bandung, Batam Island, Mojokerto, Mataram and Sukabumi killed many worshippers.
Another serious incident this month was a riot and siege hostage situation on May 8 at the Depok, West Java, detention centre. Six died, including five members of Detachment 88, Indonesia’s elite police counter-terrorism unit.
The detention centre is a heavily guarded compound of the local headquarters of the Mobile Brigade Corps, a paramilitary unit of the National Police, protected by officers from Detachment 88.
The Detachment 88 officers apparently were tortured before having their throats cut by prisoners influenced by Islamic State.
Wawan Purwanto, communications director at Indonesia’s intelligence agency, says the prison incident, like the church bombings, involved suspected members of Jamaah Ansharut Daulah.
Jamaah Ansharut Daulah is a terrorist organisation with close links to Islamic State. It was proscribed by the US State Department as a terrorist organisation in January last year; it was not proscribed by Australia until this week when Peter Dutton moved swiftly to do so.
Jamaah Ansharut Daulah was organised in 2015 by Islamic State fighter Bahrun Naim from Syria. It has several hundred members and is active in eight Indonesian provinces. It is a coalition of about two dozen extremist groups that pledged allegiance to Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
The group’s spiritual leader is Indonesia’s leading Islamic State proponent, cleric Aman Abdurrahman, who with Naim is said to have ordered the January 2016 attack in central Jakarta that killed four people and wounded 25. The attack was financed from Syria. Aman is on trial for several bombings, including the 2016 murders, and is being held in isolation at a jail in Depok. Bahrun Naim is believed to have been killed at Raqqa in Syria last December.
The various Jamaah Ansharut Daulah groups are likely to contain many Indonesian foreign fighters from the hundreds who have returned in the past two years. Last year, Turkey arrested almost 500 Indonesians, including family members, who had entered Turkey from Syria. They were later released to return home.
Many of the returnees claim to have been involved in humanitarian work in Syria and say they had nothing to do with Islamic State. In any case, terrorist attacks by Indonesians must occur within Indonesia for the perpetrators to be punishable under Indonesian law. Many returnees were never arrested; and many others were arrested and then released.
Indonesia also has an ongoing problem with radicalisation in jails, from which prisoners often are released more radicalised than when they went in. When indoctrinated prisoners are released, there is inadequate monitoring of their activities and movements.
Indonesia’s security authorities may have become complacent with the decline of terrorist groups Jemaah Islamiah and Jamaah Ansharut Tauhid, and the 2011 incarceration of firebrand cleric and ideologue Abu Bakar Bashir for 15 years.
Bashir was the co-founder and leader of Jemaah Islamiah, responsible for the 2002 Bali nightclub bombings that killed 202 people, including 88 Australians. Its stated motive was retaliation for the US’s conduct of the so-called war on terror and Australia’s role in the liberation of East Timor. It has been operationally inactive since 2010. Bashir was also the founder and leader of Jamaah Ansharut Tauhid.
From 2008, Jamaah Ansharut Tauhid sought to establish an Islamic caliphate in Indonesia and carried out attacks in an attempt to achieve that goal. In December 2012, local members in central Sulawesi killed four police officers and wounded two others. Since then it has been relatively inactive.
But Indonesia now faces new security challenges for which it looks to be largely unprepared.
While it seems likely that recent terrorist attacks in Indonesia are inspired by Islamic State rather than directed by it, the rise in Islamic State’s influence has potential implications for the security of Australians in Indonesia.
After 2011, terrorist attacks in Indonesia seemed to shift from targeting foreign Western interests and residents to attacking Indonesian police officers. However, during the past year, Islamic State has encouraged revenge against Australians for our participation in the US-led coalition against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, which led to the loss of its physical caliphate, and our support for the Armed Forces of the Philippines in last year’s five-month battle to regain control of Marawi from Islamic State-linked militants. The Marawi battle left almost 1000 militants dead.
Indonesia may need more security assistance from Australia to get on top of its Islamic State-linked situation and it would be in our interest to provide it.
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