Paris-Style Attack in Jakarta 'Highly Unlikely', Expert Says

BY :BASTIAAN SCHERPEN

NOVEMBER 23, 2015

Jakarta. Any attack on the scale of the recent Paris attacks is "highly unlikely" in Jakarta, a senior terrorism expert said on Monday, but she added that foreigners could become targets of groups affiliated with the Islamic State, as the movement continues to attract Indonesians.

Sidney Jones, director of the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict and a long-time observer of religious radicalism in Indonesia, says groups that support IS currently are not capable of launching large-scale attacks, due to competence and manpower issues but also because of Indonesian authorities' high levels of vigilance.

Speaking at a panel discussion organized by the Jakarta Foreign Correspondents Club, Jones also said that the IS leadership seems to have very little interest in Southeast Asia at the moment and that local groups still see the Indonesian police as their No. 1 enemy.

"All the indications right now are that the targeting is still domestic," Jones said, adding however that a "Bangladesh scenario" -- with small-scale attacks on foreigners and non-Sunni Islamic groups -- could be something to be cautious about in Indonesia.

Jones also warned that it is becoming harder for authorities to monitor people of interest because of the increasing popularity of instant messaging apps like Telegram, which uses encryption.

"It is not as easy as it was before to intercept communications," she said, while also pointing out another possible weak link in the surveillance chain: the lack of attention paid by anti-terror police to the role of women.

How many fighters?

In Paris, a series of coordinated attacks claimed by IS left 130 people dead on the evening of Nov. 13. At least several of the perpetrators had been in Syria.

It remains difficult, however, to find reliable data when looking at the numbers of Indonesians traveling to Syria to join IS or other radical groups.

Jones said her research showed there were currently around 160 Indonesian men in Syria, some 40 women and around 100 children under 15.

Another 100 Indonesians intent on traveling to Syria were deported by Turkish authorities, she said, stressing however that not all people who reached Syria had actually joined IS and that even those who did would not necessarily have been involved in any violent activities.

The IPAC director said 60 to 70 have been killed so far, mostly in airstrikes carried out by the anti-IS coalition, in which the United States, France and Russia play key roles.

Andi Rachmianto, the director for international security and disarmament at Indonesia's Foreign Affairs Ministry, confirmed the problem with getting accurate numbers on Indonesians leaving for Syria.

Andi explained that Indonesia is working together closely with neighbors like Malaysia and Brunei Darussalam and also with countries such as Turkey to prevent people from joining IS and to monitor those who return.

"We're entering a new chapter in the global war against terrorism," the diplomat said, adding that cooperation is key to meet this new challenge.

Role of Assad

Indonesia has banned IS in all its forms and manifestations in August 2014 and has supported resolutions at the United Nations to condemn the movement and the acts of terror committed in its name. Unlike the US and its allies, Indonesia continues to recognize the government in Damascus as the sole legitimate authority in Syria.

"For Indonesia," Andi said on Monday, "President Bashar al-Assad is the official leader of Syria, as he's been elected through a democratic process."

Russia also supports the government of Assad, as does Iran, another key player in the region. Western countries, on the other hand, have said there is no future for Assad's regime in Syria, complicating international coordination of the fight against IS.

Andi stressed that the main concern for Jakarta in its dealings with Damascus has been the safety of its citizens -- "nothing more, and nothing less."

Thousands of Indonesians, mainly domestic workers, have been repatriated from Syria since the start of the conflict in 2011.

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