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Many in Jakarta Seem to Shrug Off Terrorist Attack

If the militants who attacked the center of this city with explosives and guns on Thursday hoped to inspire fear and attract followers, they seem to have failed. Instead, life in Jakarta, the Indonesian capital, returned to normal on Friday, with traffic jams, long lines for public transportation and hasty breakfasts at streetside food stalls.

The terrorist attack, for which the Islamic State has claimed responsibility, appeared to have been met with a shrug of the shoulders by the 10 million residents of Jakarta, as many expressed astonishment that the team of assailants had killed only two people despite striking a popular commercial and shopping area.

At least 23 others were wounded, including police officers, but the general sense on Friday was that the outcome could have been much worse. Some argued that the attack highlighted the success of Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim-majority nation, in resisting Islamic militancy in recent years, as much as it raised concerns about inroads by groups such as the Islamic State.

Instead of expressing fear, residents of Jakarta praised the police for quickly neutralizing the attackers. The topic of the "handsome" Indonesian police officers who responded to the attack trended on social media on Friday.

There was also scorn for the assailants. Five attackers died, and four others were captured, according to the Indonesian national police.

"They looked like they were amateurs," said Greg Barton, one of Australia's leading experts on terrorism and a professor at Deakin University in Melbourne. "As an attack, it was almost a complete failure."

Local news reports cited senior Indonesian police officials as saying they had arrested three people on Friday, but they would not say whether they were linked to the terrorist attack.

Gen. Tito Karnavian, chief of the Jakarta Provincial Police and the former head of the country's elite national police counterterrorism unit, said on Thursday that the attackers were members of Katibah Nusantara, a Southeast Asia-based military unit under the Islamic State.

General Karnavian identified the organizer of the attack as Bahrun Naim, an Indonesian citizen who spent time in prison in 2012 and 2013 on weapons charges, and said that he had orchestrated the assault from Syria to prove he was capable of leading Katibah Nusantara. The general warned that the group was expanding its operations across the region, including in Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand.

The attack on Thursday was a "wake-up call" for Southeast Asian nations because it showed the radicalization of Islam in the region, said Tang Siew Mun, a senior fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore.

"Muslim-majority states like Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei have been slow to grasp the threat posed by I.S.," he said in an email, referring to the Islamic State.

Indonesia, through its 70 years of independence, has fought radical Islamic movements and terrorist networks. Attacks have included a bombing of the famed ninth-century Borobudur Buddhist temple in 1985, and, in the last 15 years, the bombings of Christian churches and Western hotels in Jakarta and nightclubs and restaurants on the tourist island of Bali.

The Indonesian authorities, with financial and training assistance from the United States, Australia and other nations, significantly improved their counterterrorism abilities after a bombing in Bali in 2002 that killed more than 200 people, most of them foreign tourists. Since then, it has prosecuted hundreds of militants and killed or captured senior leaders of Jemaah Islamiyah, a Southeast Asian terrorist network that was linked to Al Qaeda.

Indonesia, with more than 250 million people, is about 90 percent Muslim and has a secular national government. It has small but influential Christian, Hindu and Buddhist populations, and a tradition of tolerance toward other religions.

"Islam in Indonesia is about loving peace, as it has been stated in the Quran," said Ansyaad Mbai, former head of Indonesia's National Counterterrorism Agency.

There are parts of the country that are more conservatively religious and less secular than the capital, most notably Aceh Province at the northwestern tip of Sumatra. To end a long-running separatist insurgency there, the national government gave the province considerable autonomy and, uniquely in Indonesia, the power to impose Shariah religious law.

But national legislative bodies have historically blocked attempts to amend the Constitution and make Indonesia an overtly Islamic country. The last attempt to do so failed in 2002.

"Support for an Islamic state in Indonesia is weak if not nonexistent in political terms. Every time the idea of an Islamic state has come up, it has failed tremendously," said Tim Lindsey, director of the Center for Indonesian Law, Islam and Society at the University of Melbourne law school in Australia.

"But, of course, the problem is you only need a very small number of people to make a bomb or take up a plot," he said. "There has always been a tiny element of people willing to take arms to create an Islamic state. It's not new in Indonesia."

Analysts say Indonesia cannot afford to underestimate the threat from the Islamic State. The Indonesian police reported that they had received intelligence in November that the Islamic State was threatening to carry out an attack in the country. In the weeks leading up to Thursday's attack, the police arrested 16 terrorism suspects in Jakarta and across the main island of Java, but they failed to uncover the plot.

Analysts said the country's security services were most likely doing some soul-searching.

"They thought they had a good handle on it and were not going to be surprised. But they were surprised here," said Alan Dupont, a professor of international security at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia.

"So that is going to require them to rethink their own capabilities and to assess whether this represents a new terrorist capability by an Islamic State cell," he said. "That is what they have to work out now, and I don't think they have done so at the moment."

[Source: By Joe Cochrane, The New York Times, Jakarta, 15Jan16]

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small logoThis document has been published on 11Jan16 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.