Two weeks after the terrorist attack in front of the Sarinah Department Store in central Jakarta, a clearer picture is emerging of the key figures behind the operation and its significance for Indonesian jihadism.
On Jan. 14, four perpetrators launched a mid-morning attack in the busy Sarinah area of Jakarta. Two bombs were detonated at a Starbucks Café and a traffic police post, with a third bomb exploding in the face of one of the jihadists. Three improvised grenades were also thrown at police and two of the attackers drew guns and fired on the police and bystanders.
All four attackers died, as well as four civilians, including one foreigner, a Canadian. In the following days, the perpetrators were identified as Dian Juni Kurniadi, Ahmad Muhazan, Muhammad Ali and Sunakim alias Afif.
Several aspects of the attack were new for an Indonesian operation. First, no previous major attack involved the use of either handguns or grenades. The use of guns was almost certainly inspired by the Paris attack in November 2015.
Second, the location, in a bustling part of the capital where a large number of Indonesians mingled with a smattering of foreigners, was unusual. Prior attacks had specifically targeted sites where foreigners predominated or were present in sizeable numbers, thus reducing the risk of Muslim casualties.
Third, this was the first attack in Indonesia and indeed Southeast Asia with a confirmed endorsement from the so called Islamic State (IS). Shortly after the operation IS claimed responsibility and subsequent investigations have confirmed the perpetrators’ pro-IS orientation.
The attack itself was amateurish and the perpetrators must surely have planned for a far higher death toll than four civilians, especially given that hundreds of people were in the vicinity. They would particularly have hoped to kill multiple policemen and foreigners, their main targets.
The bombs contained low explosives and were far below the sophistication and lethality of the bombs used by Jemaah Islamiyah operatives in major terrorist operations between 2000 and 2009. The two gunmen also proved to be of low competence. Despite numerous nearby targets, they succeeded only in shooting dead a Muslim fellow citizen. If Paris had been the model, then this attack was a shambles by comparison.
Within hours of the attack, Indonesian police identified Bahrun Naim, a senior Indonesian commander with IS in Syria, as the mastermind. This is plausible, though no evidence of Bahrun specifically ordering the operation has yet been made public. Bahrun is unusual among prominent Indonesians in IS in that he has enjoined jihadists in his homeland to launch attacks against their ‘un-Islamic’ government and ‘infidels’ rather than travel to Syria and Iraq to fight with IS.