Indonesia is the world’s most populous Muslim nation and for the last three weeks it has been on a high alert in expectation of an attack. That expectation was fulfilled on the morning of January 14 with an attack at several places in Jakarta using a mix of suicide bombers, ride-by shooters on motorbikes and ‘snipers’ — culminating in a gun battle that lasted at least an hour. When it was over, there were at least seven dead, including five of the attackers. A policeman and a Dutch national also died. The numbers of wounded is unknown so far. Foreign interests seemed to be the principal targets — the Starbucks coffee chain among them — as well as the UN offices and the Pakistan embassy. There were up to 14 attackers and some are presumed to be on the run.
The Indonesian Security Minister, Luhut Panjaitan, said that it was too early to say definitively which group was responsible, but the Islamic State (IS) is high on the list of possibilities. There are other groups that could have mounted a complex operation such as this, but there has been specific intelligence that the IS was seeking to mount a large attack similar to that in Paris last December. If this does prove to be the case, then the IS will have significantly expanded its footprint, and that in a country that is relatively well developed and not suffering from a poverty of governance as is the case in other areas that it has taken control of. The police and paramilitary units were quick to respond and closed the incident down in a little over three hours. Indonesian President Joko Widodo said on national TV the situation was now calm which may be so, but between 500 and 700 young Indonesians have gone to join the IS, fighting in Syria and Iraq. Some of them have now returned, battle-hardened and well trained, ready to take the fight forward to their country of birth. The IS is like an opportunistic, invasive, non-native species. Indonesia needs to purge itself of this weed before it takes hold.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 15th, 2016.