Staff members of Australia's consulate in Surabaya, East Java, could not attend an event at Airlangga University due to security concerns. (Reuters Photo/Beawiharta)

Unprecedented Attacks Provide New Window to Understand and Tackle Terrorism in Indonesia


MAY 26, 2018

Jakarta. Indonesia saw a wave of unprecedented terror attacks this month, sending government officials, experts and members of civil society scrambling to provide an explanation and come up with holistic measures to respond to the violence and its feared repercussions in the country.

The attacks began on May 8, when terror inmates at the National Police’s Mobile Brigade (Brimob) headquarters in Depok, West Java, instigated a days-long riot, and culminated in a series of bombings in East Java and an attack at a police station in Riau, North Sumatra.

These terror incidents – which authorities have linked to Islamic State supporters – killed dozens, including the attackers and police officers, as well as injured scores of others.

In response, the Indonesian police have intensified their crackdown on terrorist suspects.

National Police chief Tito Karnavian told reporters earlier this week that officers have killed 14 terrorist suspects and arrested 60 others during raids that took place across the country after the deadly Surabaya bombings, including in East and West Java, Banten, and North Sumatra, as reported by state news agency Antara.

Terrorism Landscape in Indonesia

The suicide bombings on May 13 and 14 in East Java, which were carried out by three families of suicide bombers and involved children as young as 7-years old, have been perceived as an indication for increasing terrorist activity in the country.

However, counter-terrorism expert and director of the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC), Sidney Jones, said the Surabaya attacks may in fact indicate that extremism is weakening in the archipelago, following the defeat of IS in Syria and Iraq.

"If we analyze the pattern from other areas, when a group perceives their own weakening influence, they will look for spectacular measures to capture public attention," Jones said during a panel discussion in Jakarta on Tuesday (22/05).

Therefore, while the attacks in Surabaya are horrific, they may illustrate that extremism is actually becoming weaker, not stronger, she added.

Police said that Islamic State-affiliated terrorist network Jemaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD) was responsible for the attacks in East Java and the deadly riot at Brimob headquarters.

However, Jones warned there are other organizations across the country with no affiliation to JAD which are pro-Islamic State, and can carry out other attacks in the group's name.

In addition, the assumption that foreign terrorist fighters returning from Syria pose the biggest threat must be corrected, she added.

According to Jones, those who have joined IS bore witness to the ongoing corruption, suffering and discrimination.

"But those who have never joined ISIS in Syria, they have a stronger resolve," Jones said, using another acronym for Islamic State.

Stronger Antiterrorism Law

On Friday, the House of Representatives finally approved revisions to the 2003 Antiterrorism Law, after more than two years of deliberations.

The new law provides legal basis to charge Islamic State (IS) militants returning to Indonesia and extended the maximum detention period without charge for suspected militants to 21 days. Law enforcers are now authorized to hold suspects up to 200 days after they are officially charged with terrorism.

The revisions have also granted the Indonesian Military (TNI) a greater role in counterterrorism efforts, which will be taken up by the TNI’s joint special operations command (Koopsusgab).

The government is expected to issue a government regulation, which will serve as the legal basis for Koopsusgab, under the 2004 Law on TNI.

Human rights activists have voiced concerns that the new law will grant too much power to the security forces, allowing them to tap and detain suspects, which could lead to abuse.

However, lawmakers argued that new definition of terrorist acts and threats, which now include motives of ideology, politics and security disruption, would prevent the law from being abused.


"Whenever we discuss terrorism, we talk about action and deradicalization … [However,] efforts to counter it from the beginning have been lacking from our approach," Setara Institute vice chairman Bonar Tigor Naipospos said.

A number of national surveys have shown rising intolerance in the country, including among the younger generation.

For example, a 2016 survey from Wahid Foundation found 7.7 percent of respondents were willing to engage in a radical act if there is an opportunity for such, and 0.4 percent said they have already committed radical acts.

In 2015, the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) found that 25 percent of students and 21 percent of teachers declared state ideology Pancasila no longer relevant.

"These surveys may not reflect the reality, but it should serve as a warning for all of us that radical perspectives have infiltrated the citizenry," Bonar said.

In a preliminary study published in November 2017, Setara Institute found that in Depok, messages of intolerance and radicalism have been disseminated through mosques, religious groups and Islamic study circles on college campuses. The research also found evidence that mothers are specifically targeted for recruitment.

Chairman of the National Police task force to prevent the spread of negative content, hoaxes and hate speech, Insp. Gen. Gatot Eddy Pramono, agreed with Bonar, and said that counter-radicalization efforts must include aspects of democracy, Pancasila and moderate Islam that are easy to understand.

"They use language in a simple way when trying to plant these radical ideas, which is how we must spread values of Pancasila and democracy among our own people, especially the youth," Gatot said.

Conservatism, Radicalism and Violent Radicalism

Jones said there is no connection between rising conservatism as illustrated by the 212 Movement with terrorism.

"These are two very different phenomenons, with different leaders and even opposing ideologies," Jones said.

The spike of terrorist activities have led some to equate conservatism with violent radicalism, and while they have similarities in certain aspects, Bonar noted they are also distinctly different.

"Violent radicalism believes that to achieve their goal, there is no other way but through violence. They do not believe in democracy," Bonar told the Jakarta Globe.

In contrast, intolerant conservatives are more concerned with those of different faiths and illustrate a kind of religious egoism, but are often not interested in politics.

When it comes to radicalism, as perhaps best portrayed by Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI) and the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI), they do not engage in violence but are active in politics.

"We saw this during the Jakarta gubernatorial election. They’re not a political party, but they propel the masses to influence the political outcome," Bonar said.