TSG IntelBrief: Terror Strikes Jakarta
January 15, 2016
Bottom Line Up Front:
• On January 14, at least five men with small firearms and crude explosives attacked a busy commercial district in Jakarta, Indonesia, resulting in the death of two civilians as well as five attackers
• Seemingly inspired by the attacks in Paris last November, the Jakarta terrorists differed in their apparent levels of planning, equipment, and execution
• Several of the Paris attackers had traveled to and from Syria, where they had evidently trained in target selection and small arms; the Jakarta attackers appear not to have been well-trained or equipped
• The disparity in casualties shows the necessity of preventing foreign fighters from returning to their home countries to conduct devastating attacks.
The January 14 terrorist attack in Jakarta, Indonesia that killed two civilians and five attackers was clearly intended to mimic recent attacks in Paris; multiple gunmen armed with explosives moved from one location to another. The goal of such an attack, as in the November 13, 2015 attacks in Paris that killed 130 and wounded over 300, is to generate as high a body count as possible in as dramatic a fashion as possible. Fortunately for Indonesia, the attackers’ aspirations were not matched by their preparation and execution. While the attack was not entirely successful, it did claim two innocent lives, incite panic, and generate international publicity as it was unfolding. It is an unfortunate reminder of the global reach of the so-called Islamic State‘s violent ideology.
An online statement by the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack. Indonesian officials identified Bahru Naim—believed to be in Syria with the terrorist group—as responsible for the attack’s planning. Indonesia, the most populous Muslim country, is an obvious target for the Islamic State, even if it is relatively resistant to the group’s violent extremism. Numerous regional groups, such as Katibah Nusantara and East Indonesian Mujahideen, have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State and its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. All are jockeying for recognition as Indonesia’s official Islamic State affiliate, with the corresponding increase in notoriety, funding, and recruitment.
There has been an increase in terrorism fears in Indonesia—as well as in a growing list of other countries—over the last year. With a long history of terrorism, Indonesia has developed robust counterterrorism forces, such as Detachment 88, that have proven effective at disrupting the plans of the island-chain nation’s numerous terrorist groups, to include al-Qaeda and Jamaat Islamiyah. Additionally, Indonesia is not fertile ground for the ideology of bin Ladinism, though the country’s size means that even a very small percentage of the population could have an enormous impact.
More than anything, the Jakarta attack shows the imitative allure of Islamic State attacks, both in style and impact. Terrorist groups and individuals alike simply have to act in the name of the Islamic State to achieve a name for themselves. Fortunately, the lethal impact of the Paris attack is not easy to replicate—as the Jakarta attack shows—since training, casing of targets, timing, and execution are skills that need to be acquired. Unfortunately, that training has been taking place in Syria for years, and the next attack might involve hardened terrorists and more casualties.
The scourge of attackers hoping to emulate last November’s assault on Paris will remain a pressing concern for cities across the globe; more attempts are likely in the foreseeable future. The most effective counterterrorism efforts to lessen the risk and costs of such attempts will be to better monitor and disrupt foreign fighter travel, consistent disruptive pressure on local cells, and investment in security and first responder capacities.
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