25 January 2016
On Jan 14, four Indonesian militants mounted a lunchtime grenade-and-firearm assault on a Starbucks cafe and a police post near Sarinah Mall in downtown Jakarta. The general area has government offices, shopping malls and eateries as well as a United Nations office and the United States Embassy. The attackers were killed by the security forces, but three civilians, including one Canadian, died in the firefight. Twenty others were injured, including four foreigners.
Indonesian police remarked that the modus operandi of the Jakarta militants appeared reminiscent of the devastating Paris assault by Islamic State-directed mobile squads last November, in which 130 people were killed. It eventually emerged that the Jakarta attack was apparently directed by Muhammad Bahrun Naim, an Indonesian extremist blogger and activist with ties to local terrorist networks. Naim is also allegedly a leading figure within the Syria-based Katibah Nusantara unit, comprising largely Indonesian and Malaysian fighters, and part of Islamic State (IS) — the hyper-violent hybrid terrorist/insurgent entity that controls swathes of territory in Syria and Iraq. In his blogs, Naim had praised the Paris attacks and had sent funds to an emerging IS cell in Solo to carry out a similar operation in the Indonesian capital.
Although the casualty toll was (thankfully) paltry compared to the Paris incident, the Jakarta attack should be viewed as a statement of intent that Indonesia and regional governments should heed, for two reasons.
First, aside from its importance for global maritime trade, South-east Asia is home to a quarter of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslim population and is thus a natural “strategic reserve” for IS. The IS leader, Abu Bakr Baghdadi, seeks not merely to consolidate the Islamic caliphate within its current Levantine (territorial) epicentre, but also, however improbably, expand it worldwide.
The second concern is the militants’ indirect strategy. In its statement claiming the Jakarta attacks, IS declared that its “soldiers of the caliphate” had struck a blow against “the crusader alliance”.
… Kumar Ramakrishna is Associate Professor and Head of Policy Studies in the Office of the Executive Deputy Chairman, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS). This piece first appeared in RSIS Commentaries.
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Last updated on 25/01/2016