In the past few days, American and Australian authorities announced to detect a high degree of potential terrorist attacks in Indonesia, reportedly related to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) movement. ISIS is an outlawed movement in Indonesia but does have sympathizers in the world’s largest archipelago containing the world’s largest Muslim population (about 210 million Muslims). Last Saturday (03/01), the US embassy issued a security warning for US-associated hotels and banks in the city of Surabaya (East Java).
On Tuesday (06/01), the Australian government advised Australians to reconsider traveling to Indonesia (the island of Bali is a particularly popular tourist destination for Australians). Without providing details Australia’s online advisory said that "we continue to receive information that indicates that terrorists may be planning attacks in Indonesia, which could take place at any time. You should exercise particular caution around locations that have a low level of protective security and avoid places known to be possible terrorist targets."
A.M. Hendropriyono, former Chief of Indonesia’s State Intelligence Agency (BIN) and currently adviser to President Joko Widodo, confirmed on Monday that the US embassy’s alert was related to the activities of ISIS. He added that it is clear that ISIS is currently present in Indonesia.
Based on data from Indonesian Intelligence officials at least 300 Indonesians are fighting with the Islamic State (IS) movement. However, estimates vary rather widely. A YouTube video, uploaded on 24 December 2014, shows an Indonesian IS radical expressing threats to slaughter Indonesia’s security forces in an effort to implement Islamic law (Shariah) in Indonesia. However, in a reaction to the recent security threat, Indonesia’s Vice President Jusuf Kalla said that Indonesia is not facing any imminent danger.
Radical Islamic movements have been present in Indonesia since the colonial era, having their origin in reform movements in the Middle East. However, a series of terrorist attacks between 2000 and 2009 gave Indonesia a label as ‘being a hotbed’ for terrorist activity. These terrorists, members of the Jema'ah Islamiyah, introduced a new strategy to Indonesia: the bomb attack. Most famous is the 2002 Bali bombings when two bombs exploded almost simultaneously in a night club, killing 202 people, most of whom were foreign tourists. Due to the increase in terrorist activity in Indonesia after the fall of former President Suharto (which made possible because of the weak state in the Reformation period) a special counter-terrorism squad, called Densus 88, was established in 2003. Densus 88 is funded by the US government and is trained by the CIA, FBI and US Secret Service. This unit has had considerable success in weakening the Jema'ah Islamiyah network in Indonesia in the past decade.
General Sutarman, Indonesia’s National Police Chief, recently said that between the year 2000 and October 2014 a total of 97 Indonesian terrorist suspects and 34 police officers have been killed in the battle against terrorism in Indonesia. Furthermore, at least 1,000 terrorists have been arrested in the same period.
Indonesia’s counter terrorism strategies have been a success. Since 2009 there has been no major radical attack. However, that does not mean that terrorist activities have ceased to be in Indonesia. Currently, the various terrorist cells seem to operate independently from each other forming so-called splinter groups rather than operating in bigger, nationwide networks as was the case in the past (as smaller networks are much more difficult to trace for the authorities). Another difference is that since 2010 attacks by radical Muslim networks have been directed at symbols of the Indonesian state (for example police officers or police stations have been popular targets) rather than symbols of the Western world (Western hotel chains, foreign embassies, and popular nightclubs). This shift is expected to be the consequence of successful anti-terrorist strategies conducted by Densus 88 and the Indonesian police force.