The explosions that rocked downtown Jakarta on Jan. 14 were hardly a surprise. They are the logical outcome of links maintained by Indonesian jihadis that police intelligence units have been tracking ever since they began their exodus to support the fundamentalist Islamic State in the Middle East, according to analysts.
The terror group has claimed credit for the attacks, according to police, raising fears that ISIS may be seeking a new front in Southeast Asia.
Although the attacks were filmed by CCTV cameras and cell phones and obviously were designed to spread terror across the sprawling Indonesian capital, only two spectators were killed, along with five jihadis who blew themselves up. Two of the assailants were captured. Dozens of bystanders were injured. Initial fears of numerous attacks in the city were spread on social media and repeated by the news media. They caused some panic and unease but proved unfounded.
A day after the incident, Indonesians seemed to be taking the whole thing in stride. Police officers became folk heroes, with one even having his Gucci bag and stylish sneakers posted online. The hashtag slogan kami tidak takut (we are not afraid) became a trending topic worldwide on twitter and a symbol of defiance.
Nonetheless, the attack was ominous. Officials believe that Indonesia may harbor as many as 1,000 active Islamic State supporters. ISIS has also awakened fears of a broader movement across Southeast Asia including Malaysia and the Mindanao region of the Philippines. Two Malaysians were said to have blown themselves up in the Middle East last week, killing 33 Kurdish fighters. Also, a collection of jihadist groups announced last week that they were combining to form an ISIS unit in Mindanao.
Estimates of those who have returned from Syria range from 100 to 300, although this includes women and children. In addition, at the end of December Indonesia’s Financial Transaction and Analysis Center (PPATK) said it had tracked about Rp5 billion (US$365,000) that had been transferred to Indonesia from sources in neighboring Australia for terror activities.
In all, six blasts occurred about 50 meters apart in the central business district shopping complex, which also houses a United Nations office. The attackers, however, never got near the UN facilities, nor were those facilities an apparent target.
In the confusion following the morning blasts, there were fears of a citywide assault. Instead, the incident was confined to seven attackers who seemed neither well prepared nor effectively trained.
The victims died when the perpetrators detonated a series of bombs before noon and started shooting at bystanders and security officials in the Thamrin area of Jakarta, fewer than three kilometers from the state palace. Videos of the explosions that showed one attacker blowing himself up and unnamed victims were retweeted thousands of times.
Police Inspector General Tito Karnavian, Jakarta’s police chief, who also is the former chief of the elite Densus 88 police counter-terror unit, told reporters that Islamic State terror cells were behind the Paris-style suicide attack.
“ISIS cells are scattered in the region and they compete to be the leader, and that is why they attacked today,” Karnavian said, naming Bahrun Naim, an Indonesian currently in Raqqa, Syria with ISIS as the man responsible for plotting and financing the attack. The attackers are believed to have been trained by ISIS supporters here, possibly with a unit established by Bahrun called Katibah Nusantara.
Police have been on high alert, previously arresting at least 20 people across the country over alleged attack plans targeting security officials and religious minorities.
Indonesia's official financial transactions analysis agency (PPATK) joined forces with its Australian counterpart the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Center (AUSTRAC) to uncover the illicit flow of cash destined for terrorist cells in Indonesia.
Some of the funds were said to be collected from Australian citizens who were not aware that their donations would be used to support terrorists. PPATK chairman Muhammad Yusuf said Australian donors were told that the funds would go toward a foundation or to aid an individual starting a business.
The agency also reported that it had frozen 26 bank accounts valued at more than Rp2 billion US$152,000) in accordance with UN Security Council resolutions against terrorism that require all member states to freeze assets related to al-Qaeda.
As a result of these efforts, the 36-member Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering (FATF) in June last year removed Indonesia from its blacklist of countries that did not adhere to the implementation of UN resolutions along with its own recommendations.
High terrorist threat
The revelation of the alleged financial pipeline for terrorists came nine days after Indonesia and Australia announced a joint agreement to share intelligence in combating terrorism.
Information from Australian federal police also recently helped Indonesian authorities arrest nine suspects, including some with alleged ties to ISIS. According to Indonesian police, the suspects were plotting year-end terrorist attacks. The nation has since been put on a high state of alert.
In 2015, police prevented nine terror plots and arrested 74 people linked to terrorist activities, said National Police Chief Gen. Badrodin Haiti. In his year-end report, Badrodin said that cases against 65 of those in custody were ongoing, but nine suspects were released because of lack of evidence.
Since 2000, police have tracked down about 1,000 suspected terrorists, he said. Of those, 299 offenders have been sentenced, three were executed, 12e killed themselves in suicide bombings, and 104 were killed during the raids. Because of the continued funding to support alleged terrorist activities, police expect such threats to remain high in 2016.