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Jakarta Post

Ending the endless war

  • Editorial Board

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Mon, October 14, 2019   /   09:32 am
Ending the endless war Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Wiranto during a visit to Banten on Thursday afternoon, just a moment before a man tries to attack him with a knife. (JP/Handout)

The knife attack on Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Wiranto in Pandeglang, Banten, on Thursday, shows that local terrorist cells are far from defeated and that the slightest complacency in the war on terrorism could prove disastrous.

The former military commander, along with three other victims — a police officer, a military officer and a Muslim cleric — survived the attack. While it indicates that local militants lack any significant capability, the incident still shocked the nation and was particularly notable for a number of reasons.

First, the attack was more targeted. The militants did not aim at random people representing a specific religion, country or institution. It was the first attempted assassination of a high-ranking government official by extremists, at least since November 1957 when militants launched a grenade attack to kill then-president Sukarno and his family in Cikini, Central Jakarta.

Second, it was carried out in broad daylight and in the presence of security personnel and dozens of bystanders who instinctively recorded the incident from every angle, allowing the act of terror to get maximum exposure even before the media reported it.

The suspects, identified as Syahrial Alamsyah, also known as Abu Rara, and his wife Fitrie Adriana, were immediately seized after the attack. It has been revealed that they are members of Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD), a local terrorist cell linked to Islamic State.

With that revelation, the nation is again left with the same questions that have been repeatedly asked: Will this ever end? Could it have been averted? Such questions are even more relevant given the fact that the Pandeglang incident took place only two days before the commemoration of the 2002 Bali bombings on Oct. 12.

The latest incident, sadly, does not provide the confidence the people need. It is disconcerting that a chief security minister has fallen victim to a low-scale terror attack by two extremists who, according to State Intelligence Agency (BIN) chief Budi Gunawan, have been on the intelligence radar for at least three months. The spy chief even claimed that Abu Rara had been known to collect knives before Thursday’s attack.

The police’s Densus 88 counterterrorism squad has won kudos in the past for foiling many terror plots. So, why has it failed now when the suspects were already known to have been part of a terrorist cell in Bekasi, West Java, that it raided only recently?

Last year, the nation passed a tougher Terrorism Law that allows suspected terrorists to be kept in custody for up to 14 days without charge. They can also be held for up for 200 days after being charged with terrorism. The legislation also mandates “counterradicalization” and “deradicalization” measures.

When it was enacted, the law sparked human rights concerns, but it did bring new hope for stronger and more comprehensive counterterrorism measures. But the latest incident has shown that it takes more than just a legal document to fight terrorism.

The state not only needs a better strategy but also stronger conviction to end this endless war.