Jan Wed, 2016
On 14 January, four ISIS fighters attacked several targets in Jakarta, reports CNN. The attackers concentrated their efforts in the area of the intersection of Thamrin Street and Jalan K.H. Wahid Hasyim Street, an upscale shopping, eating, business, and hotel area. Casualties included all four attackers dead, four civilians dead, and at least 28 wounded, including civilians and as many as five police. Some of the latter were severely wounded, and the death count might rise.
While there have been multitudes of smaller Islamist jihadist attacks throughout Indonesia for years, this was the first major attack on Jakarta in seven years.
There is varied reporting on exactly how the attack unfolded, but the Jakarta Post and the Sydney Morning Herald said it happened this way:
The whole scenario was over by about 12:30 pm.
One of the attackers was photographed carrying a pistol, a shoulder bag, and a rucksack, reminiscent of the kit carried by the 2008 Mumbai attackers, the November 2015 Paris attackers, and others.
The Daily Mirror posted pictures of one of the terrorist’s kit, which included three homemade grenades (somewhat similar to those found on the Tunisia hotel gunman, June 2015,) a large bomb, what appears to be another explosive device, a knife, and at least one pistol – what looks to be a Browning 9 mm Hi-Power – and a single magazine for that pistol. There also appears to be two smaller magazines for a different pistol.
ISIS took responsibility for the attack. Through its Aamaq news agency and Twitter, ISIS said: “Islamic State fighters carried out an armed attack this morning targeting foreign nationals and the security forces charged with protecting them in the Indonesian capital.” In a later statement, it also said: “A group of soldiers of the caliphate in Indonesia targeted a gathering from the crusader alliance that fights the Islamic State in Jakarta through planting several explosive devices that went off as four of the soldiers attacked with light weapons and explosive belts.”
Indonesia’s National Police spokesman, Inspector General Anton Charliyan, said ISIS had warned there’d be an attack on Indonesia, and the police have been well aware of ISIS activities in country for over a year. Police arrested 16 people in December 2015 planning terror attacks, and they’ve arrested scores more in the many months before this.
After Thursday’s attacks ended, police and military went on nationwide alert status, increasing security throughout the country. Authorities detained 12 people with suspected links to the attacks, and they shut down 11 Islamist jihadist related websites.
One of the attackers was Afif Sunakim, who, says the BBC, was jailed for seven years in 2010 for terrorist activities, namely undergoing training at a secret camp in Aceh. He was paroled in 2015.
Police believe Syria based, Indonesian militant Bahrun Naim planned the attacks.
Interestingly, on the heels of the Jakarta attack, Malaysia on 16 January arrested four suspected ISIS operatives, at least one of whom was bent on carrying out a suicide attack in Malaysia. This suspect said he had received his orders from Syria.
There are seven takeaways from the Jakarta attacks. First, the success of the 2008 Mumbai and November 2015 Paris attacks – technically referred to as “raids” (military/terrorism term) or “active shooter” scenarios (law enforcement term) – continue to resonate with Islamist jihadist groups. Jakarta had all the underpinnings of this type of attack. It should be considered a standard line of operation in the Islamist jihadist terrorist toolkit.
Second, from a tactical point of view, while the Jakarta attack wounded rate (about 19 victims) was high, the death rate (4 victims, so far) is low for a group armed with so many explosives. It’s curious as to why they didn’t throw more bombs at nearby crowded venues. And because Aldi, the Starbucks security guard, survived his wounds despite being next to the bomb blast, it stands to reason that the explosives used might have been underpowered. So the attack team seemed to have suffered from a lack of training, a lack of experience, and/or a mishap. This is odd because, for ISIS’ first major attack in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, they might have been more efficient.
Third, the terrorists’ imbalanced application of firearms vs. explosives reflects another tactical deficiency. Based on their kit, it seems this attack was supposed to use explosives as the main weapons and pistols as secondary weapons, but it ended up being a gunfight with the terrorists on the losing end of that equation. Again, this smacks of a lack of training, lack of experience, and/or a mishap.
Fourth, the police counter terror (CT) response was effective. Law enforcement deployed quickly, they appeared to have appropriate kit for CT operations, and entry teams demonstrated professional tactical formations in approaching the threat. Ultimately, the police successfully contained the terrorists and decisively stopped the attack.
As an add-on here, the police coordinated sending the wounded to eight different hospitals. More people might have died had it not been for this type of efficiency, so said the head of the police medical division.
Fifth, from a strategic perspective, this attack is not surprising. Muir Analytics predicted on 11 September 2014 that ISIS operations in Southeast Asia would escalate. And this is indeed happening, not just in Indonesia, but also in Malaysia, Thailand, and the Philippines.
Sixth, keeping in mind the close timing of the Jakarta attacks and the foiled Malaysia suicide bomb attempt, it is possible that these operations were supposed to be synchronized, thereby demonstrating ISIS’ regional organizational prowess and ideological appeal.
Seventh, targeting Indonesia is critical for ISIS. In order to solidify itself as the global caliphate – the central authority for all Muslims worldwide – ISIS must successfully coopt Indonesia, again, the world’s most populous Muslim nation. (For that matter, it must also coopt Muslim-majority Malaysia, a unique and global icon of Islam because of its ethnic Malay heritage.)
What’s next? Because of ISIS’ impetus on Indonesia, and because it has dramatically increased global operations, ISIS will continue to target Indonesia and the rest of Southeast Asia. ISIS will also no doubt analyze its tactical deficiencies in Jakarta and make leadership and/or operational adjustments. (It will do the same regarding Malaysia.) Bahrain Naim called for more attacks on Indonesia on 18 January, reports the Daily Mail, and an ISIS threat to attack Bali was issued the same day, reports Channel News Asia.
Indonesia (and Malaysia) will continue to apply their largely successful counter ISIS operations – and they will also apply lessons learned – but increasing regional cooperation to a level never before seen will be necessary for continued success. Patches of internal government opposition throughout Southeast Asia, however, will continue to plague counter-ISIS efforts, which will prolong the threat.
Moreover, combatting ISIS’ ideology will become ever more central to this fight. Indonesia has been at the forefront of the ideological combat against Islamist jihadist ideology using an innovative combination of moderate Islamic teachings and nationalist ideology based on Pancasila, the nation’s guiding principles. It is a model for other countries to emulate. This includes the United States, but this also requires dissecting and labeling the ideological core of the threat, something the current administration in Washington has yet to do.
Sources and further reading:
“Jakarta attacks: Starbucks worker Aldi Tardiansyah escaped a suicide bomber,” Sydney Morning Herald, 20 January 2016.
“Police say 1 man killed in Jakarta was civilian, not bomber,” Jakarta Post, 17 January 2016.
“Malaysia Arrests After Jakarta Attack Fuel Fears of Islamic State’s Reach,” Wall Street Journal, 16 January 2016.
“Five Attackers or Four? Police Still Unsure,” Jakarta Globe, 16 January 2016.
“Tempo Photojournalist Captures Moments When Two Terrorists Go on a Shooting Rampage,” Jakarta Globe, 16 January 2016.
“Jakarta attacks: Gunman from widely circulated photo identified,” BBC, 15 January 2016.
“ISIS militant masterminded Jakarta attack from Syria, Indonesia police say,” CNN, 15 January 2016.
“Islamic State militants claim deadly attack in Jakarta,” The Jakarta Post, 15 January 2016.
“Indonesia’s capital city struck by bomb and gun attacks,” The Jakarta Post, 14 January 2016.
“Terrorist toolkit used by ISIS extremists in Jakarta gun and suicide bomb attack,” The Daily Mirror, 14 January 2016.
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