Indonesian Attacks Follow ISIS Warning Signs

Briefing Note

Indonesian Attacks Follow ISIS Warning Signs

18 Jan 2016

Eight people were killed in the Indonesian capital Jakarta following a series of targeted explosions. The attacks have been claimed by ISIS, and follow a number of prior warnings against the region.

The attacks occurred during the morning of Thursday 14 January 2016, including in the Sarinah shopping centre in Jakarta, an area that houses a number of international brands, and close to the presidential palace and a United Nations office.

Explosions were also reported in Cikini, Silpi and Kuningan districts. Eight people were killed in the attacks - four civilians and four suspected attackers - with over 20 people wounded, including a number of foreign tourists.

ISIS has aspired to extend its 'caliphate' in Indonesia.

ISIS released a statement claiming the attacks, which it said were carried out by "soldiers of the Calipate," while President Joko Widodo described it as an "act of terror."  Indonesia is the world's largest Muslim country with 80 per cent of the population adhering to Islam, and ISIS has aspired for sometime to extend its 'caliphate' in the region.

Following the attacks, Jakarta police announced that one militant suspected of being involved in Thursday's attacks had been killed, and a further 12 suspects had been arrested. The arrests came as police uncovered evidence that the militants were planning further attacks in cities elsewhere in Indonesia.

The attacks have also been linked with the Philippines, where Islamist groups such as Abu Sayyaf and the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters operate in the south of the country. Indonesian police reported that some of the 12 arrested had disclosed that guns used in the attacks came from the Philippines. Meanwhile Malaysian authorities, who have been on alert over threats to the region, released a statement on Saturday 16 January stating that a number of suspected militants had been arrested, accused of supporting ISIS, with one suspect confessing to planning a suicide attack in the country.

Authorities in Indonesia have also estimated that up to 570 Indonesians have travelled to fight with the group in Iraq and Syria, with estimates that 150 are now back in the country. The Indonesian government has increased its efforts to crack down on those found to have travelled to fight. At the end of 2015, at least 13 men were facing charges of conspiring with terrorists.

The number of returnees does not appear to be high, but a parallel can be drawn with the 1990s and early 2000s. It is thought that nearly 200 Indonesians trained in al-Qaeda linked camps in Afghanistan over this period; their return was followed by a number of attacks carried out in Indonesia by extremist groups, including the Bali bombing in 2002, the Jakarta Marriott hotel bombing in 2003, which killed 12 people, and a second Bali bombing in 2005 which killed 23.

Al-Qaeda has also threatened the region. Just hours before the bomb attacks in Jakarta, Ayman al-Zawahiri, who was named the leader of al-Qaeda following the death of Osama Bin Laden, issued three new messages via audio statement. The second of these messages focused primarily on southeast Asia, especially Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines.

In his 13 January message, part of what he described as the 'Islamic spring series', Zawahiri said that he wanted to discuss Islam in east Asia: "Muslim brothers in east Asia, you are the gatekeepers of the lands of Islam in the east. It is incumbent upon you to protect the teachings of Islam and the sanctity of all Muslims. You are all in a battle with the crusader alliance that is aggressing against Islam and Muslims."

Zawahiri calls for "jihad to stop the crusaders against Muslims in the Philippines and to help your Muslim brothers from the crimes of the crusaders in.... Indonesia...and southern Thailand." The message included an interview with Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) commander Abu Dujana who said that "many Muslim lands have been taken away by our enemies and we demand a return of the land that has been taken and a return to the sharia."

Zawahiri also referenced Indonesia's constitution, warning of the "threat of secular rule that renounces the authority of the Sharia" and described Indonesia's system of pancasila ('five moral principles': nationalism, humanistarism, social justice, democracy, and belief on one god) as "malicious."

Recent concerns over ISIS threats in the region.

There had been previous warning signs against Indonesia, including in December 2015 when suspected terrorists were arrested for allegedly planning attacks in Sumatra, Java and Kalimantan, where documents were seized suggested that the suspects were planning to "do a concert" in the country. A video also emerged online in December calling for attacks on the presidential palace and the Jakarta police headquarters.

There were also concerns raised in 2015 over the east Indonesian militant group Mujahidin Indonesia Timur (MIT), with reports by Indonesian police that the group had received cash assistance from ISIS, and was calling for attacks on Western targets.

Borders are no barrier for the global Salafi-jihadi ideology that drives ISIS and other similar groups. Southeast Asian nations, including Indonesia, have been increasingly concerned about the threat ISIS poses to the region. After the Jakarta attack, and with jihadis from ISIS and al-Qaeda both calling for attacks, the region will be on an even higher alert.

This article was originally published on 14 January 2016. It was updated on 18 January 2016.

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