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Jakarta Post
The Jakarta Post
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Insight: The Jakarta blasts: A changing trend in terrorist attacks

  • Noor Huda Ismail

    The Jakarta Post

Melbourne, Australia | Fri, January 15, 2016 | 08:52 am

It is far too early to get a complete picture of who might be behind the recent drama of terror that took place in popular and strategic meeting points in Jakarta. Five suspected attackers died, two of whom were suicide bombers. The National Police believe they were linked to a terrorist cell in Surakarta and in communication with the Islamic State (IS) organization in Syria.

The group that carried out the Paris-style attack may have timed it for January because during this period law enforcers would not be on high alert over terrorist threats, unlike at the end of the year from September to December.

About 150,000 police officers and soldiers were deployed during Christmas Eve and New Year'€™s Eve to guard churches, airports and other public places. More than 9,000 police were also deployed in Bali, the site of Indonesia'€™s deadliest terrorist attack that killed 202 people in 2002.

Anyway, what does the latest attack mean for Indonesian security?

Indeed, Indonesian authorities have foiled at least 15 plots to launch terrorist attacks in the country since the last bombings in Jakarta in July 2009 '€” enough time for the terrorist network to consolidate its strength to strike back.

Thursday'€™s coordinated attack, however, may change the landscape of terrorism threats in Indonesia. It seems that the terrorist network is now moving from '€œsoft targets'€ of Western interests such as restaurants, bars, embassies and hotels to employing a guerilla type of attack.

This trend is disturbing because the group can carry out an attack in a more precise way and require few resources. To produce this kind of style, the group has to conduct a series of training regiments as suggested in their motto: '€œLa jihada illa bil '€˜idad'€, an Arabic phrase that means '€œthere is no act of terror without preparation'€. Following this logic, some sort of military training must be organized before selecting the suitable field operators to execute an attack.

Terrorist groups in Indonesia are small and fragmented. However, they are obsessed with military training. Therefore, after the Indonesian police killed Malaysian terrorist Noordin M. Top in Central Java in late 2010, a number of senior Indonesian terrorists, including Dulmatin and Abu Tholut, quickly staged military training in Aceh in 2011. Yet, when the Aceh training was uncovered by the police, undetected cells of the group continued to hold closed and informal military training wherever and whenever they could.

Having reliable field operators has always been the key to the success of any acts of terrorism. Historically, a terrorist group in Indonesia selects individuals who have hands-on experience in any conflict zone, either locally such as in Ambon and Poso or internationally such as in Afghanistan, Moro and Syria. This cluster of recruits, the group believes, will be able to carry out acts of terrorism calmly because they are battle
If the group is unable to find such individuals, it will select former thugs or criminals who joined the group through informal religious groups consisting of 10 to 20 people. The ideologue of the group then would tell them that the best way to repent was use their skills and bravery to '€œdefend the plight'€ of Islam.

For them, participating in acts of terrorism would also increase their standing before other members. Individuals that may fall into this category include terrorists linked to armed robbery in Medan, East Indonesia Mujahidin (MIT) leader Santoso and people from Lamongan, East Java, who have joined IS.

Besides being fueled by their ideology, the terrorists also harbor resentment toward law enforcers, especially the police who hunt and sometimes torture their fellow captured '€œfighters'€. This phenomenon may help explain why people have the impression that well-trained and fearless recruits performed the recent attack in Jakarta.

Indonesia can prevent future attacks by this specific cluster of terrorists in part by addressing a loophole in the law that prevents law enforcers from prosecuting jihadists who have returned from overseas battles as foreign fighters.

Indonesia, despite its Terrorism Law, does not have a regulation that bans its citizens from joining paramilitary training or battles abroad. As a result, even though the police can identify and capture jihadists who return home from war zones under the banner of IS, they cannot charge, let alone imprison them.

Indeed not all homecoming fighters pose a danger. Some of them have returned to their home soil because they are disenchanted. But without an integrated program to help reintegrate post-conflict actors, including former militants fighting for IS, into society, Indonesia will remain under a constant threat of acts of terrorism.

The writer, who has done extensive research on terrorist networks and religious extremism, is a PhD candidate in politics and international relations at Monash University, Melbourne, Australia.