The response to a string of attacks across Indonesia in May is commendable but do these attacks signal a worrying new direction for the country.
What began as an ordinary Sunday for the residents of Surabaya - and Indonesia - ended with shock, sadness and fear as news of the bombings of the Surabaya Central Pentecostal Church, the Santa Maria Catholic Church and the Indonesian Christian Church Diponegoro filled the airwaves. 13 people were killed in the attacks on 13 May.
Equally alarming, however, was the news that six of those killed were members of the family who orchestrated the attacks. Dita Oepriarto, believed to have links to the so-called Islamic State, co-opted his immediate family—including his wife and three children (the youngest was nine) to carry out one of the most horrendous attacks on Indonesian soil since the Bali bombings just over a decade ago.
Just hours later, another would-be terrorist family was killed when the bomb they were priming went off prematurely at an apartment on the outskirts of Surabaya. And it didn’t stop there.
The following day, a family of five, headed by Tri Murtiono, charged into Surabaya police headquarters and detonated bombs. Six people died, four of them attackers. His eight-year-old daughter survived the blasts. Police later found 54 pipe bombs at their house.
Later that week, police shot dead four men who used samurai swords to attack officers at Riau police headquarters in Pekanbaru, Sumatra.
As these attacks occurred in various locations across the country, peppered throughout the month of May, it became increasingly evident that this was the work of a cell of the Islamic State-inspired group Jemaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD), an umbrella organisation currently on a U.S. State Department terrorist list that is believed to have drawn several Indonesian sympathisers of Islamic State.
Indonesia is no stranger to terrorism but in recent years, with the growing threat of radical, extremist organisations, terrorism is becoming embedded in the fabric of people’s everyday lives.
Furthermore, the equation of Islam with terrorism has been on the global radar for decades now. For countries like Indonesia, which have long been seen as bastions of tolerance, to begin showing signs of radicalisation and extremist thought, is disheartening. While there is the worrying influence of Saudi-style salafism, conservative Muslim leaders, such as Bachtiar Nasir— who had called for former Jakarta governor Ahok to be jailed on allegations of blasphemy— condemned the attacks. There is hope, then, these attacks will remain the work of the fringe. Extremists, however, do have an influence and if religious minorities are seen as targets, where Indonesia is headed remains to be seen.
But all is not lost. It must be noted that the country’s efforts to swiftly address the situation are commendable. Densus 88 (or Detachment 88), Indonesia’s counter-terrorism force, within hours of these attacks, conducted raids which resulted in multiple arrests nationwide and the discovery of bomb-making equipment.
But law enforcement in this country also needs to recognise the importance of women’s networks in extremist movements. Deradicalisation programmes targeted only at men may be of little use if their female companions are not included.
One hopes that with these incidents, calls for stricter anti-terrorism laws are heeded. It is now up to the powers that be to ensure that extremist ideology is prevented from entering the mainstream and that Indonesia’s foundational philosophical theory of Pancasila with its focus on a unified Indonesia holds true.