IHS | Jakarta attacks show Islamic terrorists are honing lethal edge

Jakarta attacks show Islamic terrorists are honing lethal edge

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Thursday’s deadly Jakarta attacks demonstrate that Islamic militants are honing their organizational edge and are demonstrating their ability to strike at soft targets in the heart of the Indonesian capital, says an analysis by Global insights firm IHS.

Anton Alifandi, deputy head of Asia Analysis at IHS Country Risk noted in an analysis that the attacks are the most lethal since the July 2009 double bombings of the JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels, when seven people died. He added that the latest strike shows that the perpetrators can deploy multiple personnel and attack targets that have high international profiles.

Police gather outside a restaurant near the scene of an attack in central Jakarta January 14, 2016. Militants launched a gun and bomb assault in the center of the Indonesian capital on Thursday
Police gather outside a restaurant near the scene of an attack in central Jakarta January 14, 2016. Militants launched a gun and bomb assault in the center of the Indonesian capital on Thursday

The Indonesian government has blamed Islamic State (IS) for the assault and IS has claimed responsibility. It took local security units about three hours to end the attack near a Starbucks cafe (Watch the video clip) and a landmark Jakarta department store, after a team of at least seven militants engaged in a firefight with police before blowing themselves up. Seven people were killed, including five attackers and two civilians. Twenty were wounded. Two militants were captured alive, police said.

While the use of small arms and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) shows a relative lack of sophistication by the terrorists, Alifandi says their expertise is likely to improve as Indonesians fighting for the Islamic State return from Syria. He also speculates that if al-Qaeda affiliated groups are involved, it would represent a new development in which two major global Islamist militant groups will be vying for influence in Southeast Asia.

The attacks took place on Jalan Thamrin, Jakarta’s main north-south thoroughfare where a number of major hotels, shopping malls, and high-rise office buildings are located. The presidential palace is located around a mile away to the north. Earlier reports of other IED attacks outside embassy locations appear to be incorrect, IHS said.

Indonesian security forces take cover during Thursday's attack in Jakarta
Indonesian security forces take cover during Thursday’s attack in Jakarta

The Jakarta assault also represents a break with previous terrorist practices in Indonesia. Since 2009, Alifandi says there have been several attacks on the island of Java. But they have typically involved shootings against the police and low-capacity IEDs carried on backpacks by lone militants. Although information is still sketchy on the type of explosives used, it also appears that the explosives did not have the force to cause heavy damage to buildings.

At the same time, Alifandi points out that the attack on the cafe represents a return to earlier targeting patterns. Since the attacks on big international hotels in 2009, he notes that militants have overwhelmingly targeted police officers in small-arm attacks. But Thursday’s attacks show that militants are again targeting businesses, particularly global brands that would result in worldwide publicity.

While Indonesia is blaming Islamic State for the attacks and IS is taking credit, there is still an outside chance that al-Qaeda was involved. The IHS analysis says that since 2014, Indonesian militants have been split between those who support IS and others who are linked with al-Qaeda.

The BBC’s Monitoring Service has reported that Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri on Jan. 13 issued an audio message addressed to Indonesians and other Southeast Asian Muslims, urging them to attack the interests of the US and its allies.

Doug Tsuruoka
Doug Tsuruoka is a US-based newspaper editor and former foreign correspondent who's worked for the Far Eastern Economic Review, Asia Times' original print edition, Newsweek, and other major news media. He has reported from Japan, Korea, Malaysia and Thailand.
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