The 17-year-old Ivan Armadi who tried to kill a Catholic priest and detonate a self-made bomb during the Sunday service (28/08) in a church in Medan (North Sumatra) is one example of the Islamic State sympathizers that are present in Indonesia. Although the police investigation indicates that there are no direct links between Armadi and existing militant networks within Indonesia or abroad, the case shows that there are so-called "lone-wolves" in Indonesia who are inspired by radical Islamic doctrine and can learn to make bombs from the Internet.
Radical Islam and terrorist attacks are nothing new to Indonesia. However, during the authoritarian New Order regime (which was backed by a strong army and intelligence service, while authorities did not need to care much about respecting human rights), this doctrine and violent actions were successfully repressed to a large extent. After this regime ended in 1998 there occurred a series of terrorist attacks in Indonesia during the 2000s and beyond. Most famous examples of such attacks are the bombings in Bali (2002 and 2005), the bombings in Jakarta's JW Marriott and Ritz Carlton hotels (2009), and - more recently - the bombings and shootout on the streets of Central Jakarta in January 2016 (an IS-linked attack).
There is an interesting development, however, that separates the attacks that occurred in most of the 2000s from the attacks that have occurred since 2010. Whereas in the 2000s terrorist attacks in Indonesia seemed mainly directed at Westerners or symbols of the Western world, attacks after 2010 are mainly directed at Indonesians (for example churchgoers) and symbols of the Indonesian state (such as police officers). This change is attributed to the many successful counter-terrorist actions that have been conducted by counter-terrorism squad Densus 88. As such, the Indonesian authorities seem to have become the number one enemy for radical Muslims.
Militant Islam in Indonesia basically has its origin in the reform movements in the Middle East. Streams like Wahhabism and Salafi Islam - both emphasizing the importance of a very strict interpretation of Islam and aim for a return to the true nature of Islam as it was practiced during the days of prophet Muhammad - managed to get a foothold in Indonesia due to the intensification of contact between Indonesia and the Middle East (the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 played a crucial role in this process).
Today, radical Muslims continue to be inspired by developments in the Middle East. A relatively new movement is the Islamic State (IS), a group that aims to establish a worldwide caliphate and uses brutal tactics to achieve its ambition. Although, by far, the majority of Indonesian Muslims are supportive of a pluralistic society and secular democracy, a tiny minority of Indonesians (jihadis) are inspired by IS, and they will not only endorse the brutal tactics but will take action themselves to reform and uproot established conditions.
Late last year Director of Indonesia's State Intelligence Agency (BIN) Sutiyoso said authorities need to closely monitor those Indonesians that return home after having joined the militant Islamic State in Syria. Indonesian authorities estimate that more than 100 Indonesians traveled back to Indonesia last year (from Syria) after having fought alongside the militant organization. It is particularly vital that these "IS returnees" cannot be able to recruit new members for IS. Given that Indonesia is still plagued by a high degree of poverty it is attractive for the tens of millions of Indonesians who live below or just above the poverty line to join the fight of IS, not for ideological reasons but simply for the lucrative payment.
The teenager, Ivan Armadi, who attacked the churchgoers and a priest in a Catholic church in Medan on Sunday (28/08) was a lone wolf, inspired by the IS movement. Based on police reports the boy was obsessed with Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, leader of the Sunni militant jihadist group. Meanwhile, the boy learned to manufacture a simple bomb through online research. Indonesia's top Security Minister Wiranto therefore stated that parents need to be alert when their children show affection toward the philosophy of IS. "Islamic terrorism is the enemy of all of us. Don't regard it simply as the responsibility of Indonesian authorities to combat terrorism. Society as a whole needs to be alert and respond adequately," Wiranto said.
There were no serious injuries in the Medan church attack last weekend (the name of the church is Gereja Stasi Santo Yosep). The priest suffered minor injuries as several members of the church community managed to overpower the boy on time. Meanwhile, his self-made bomb failed to detonate fully.