The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil) has now claimed responsibility for the terror attacks in the heart of Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta, but there is still a great deal that remains unknown. We do not know exactly how many attackers there were, and we don’t know for sure how many people were killed and injured. When an event like this happens, misinformation spreads like wildfire and the truth often takes some time to emerge.
Here is what we do know: On Thursday morning a series of explosions rocked an intersection on the city’s main protocol street. Unknown men, some of whom were carrying automatic weapons, targeted a Starbucks coffee shop, a police post and a shopping and theatre complex.
The Starbucks is across the street from the United Nations offices and in the midst of government and commercial buildings and is often full at that time of the day.
A combination of suicide bombers, small arms fire and grenade attacks caused the carnage and police have reportedly killed some of the attackers. The police are now saying that a returned Isil fighter planned the attack.
While shocking, the attacks did not come as a surprise to many observers. The police were on alert before the holidays, watching for terrorist attacks on churches at Christmas or during the New Year festivities.
Indonesia has a highly effective anti-terror squad known as Detachment 88 and they claim to have thwarted a number of attacks before they were mounted. There are reports that security services were tipped off about a possible event on Thursday and at least one foreign embassy sent out a warning to its citizens before the attack.
The big question now is: Has Isil become the inspiration for a new generation of home-grown terrorists? It probably has, but looking at the relatively modest numbers of Indonesians who have travelled to Syria to fight compared with European countries, it is clear that the Isil message has not resonated with most of the Indonesian population.
Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation now appears to have joined other world capitals on the target list of extremists.
With Isil involvement confirmed, will Indonesia be ‘at war’ with Isil? It is an interesting feature of Indonesian law that they have, to date, been unable to prosecute Isil members returning from Syria for links to the group and it is doubtful whether Indonesia would legally declare war on Isil.
Even that kind of rhetoric of that Western leaders are so fond – think of War on Terror – is not likely to be used by Indonesian President Joko ‘Jokowi’ Widodo. He usually avoids inflammatory language.
The government’s response will be key. So far, Jokowi has been firm but measured in his statements.
Indonesia has developed a much more effective anti-terror apparatus than it possessed a decade ago but it needs to find legal ways to prosecute returning Isil fighters and prevent them from recruiting more Indonesians while staying plugged into global efforts to combat extremism.
This article has been excerpted from: ‘Jakarta attacks: what now for Jokowi?’