Indonesia has been hit by a series of attacks reportedly all executed by supporters of the Islamic State.
On Monday, the country suffered its most deadly attack in years. Coordinated suicide bombers attacked three churches across the provincial capital of Surabaya, a city in the north-eastern tip of Java Island.
The explosions all went off around 07:00 local time, indicating great precision on the part of the attackers. Dozens were wounded in the attack, many critically. In the final assessment, 13 were reported killed and over 40 injured.
Investigations by Indonesia’s police and counter-terror personnel reached some pretty concrete conclusions already on the day of the bombing. The findings were disturbing, to say the least.
According to senior police reports, the attackers are believed to have been a family affiliated with Jamaah Anshar Daulah (JAD), an extremist group linked to the Islamic State. Police chief General Tito Karnavian laid out the facts as they are currently known.
According to Karnavian, the father of the family, Raya Arjuna, was the bomber at the Surabaya Pentecostal Church (GPPS) on Java lsland on the west side of the city. His two teenage sons carried out another suicide bombing that involved driving a motorcycle into the Saint Mary Immaculate (SMTB) Catholic Church of Surabaya in the Gubeng neighborhood. The mother of the family along with her two young girls, aged 9 and 12, carried out the mission at the Diponegoro Indonesian Christian Church (GKI). The three reportedly arrived at GKI after being dropped off by the father before he made his way to his target at GPPS. Shortly after arriving at GKI, the mother reportedly blew herself up in the company of her children.
ISIS was quick to claim responsibility for the attacks. “Three martyrdom attacks result in at least 11 Christians and church security guards being killed and 41 being injured in the city of Surabaya located in the region of East Java in Indonesia,” was the group’s official statement delivered via its Amaq News Agency. A longer statement was subsequently published that went into more detail. “After putting their trust in Allah, several Khilafah soldiers set out towards three Crusader temples located in Surabaya city in East Java region in eastern Indonesia.” The self-declared caliphate described the victims as “Crusaders.”
The following day, a family of five rode two motorcycles to the front gate of Surabaya's police headquarters before detonating explosives, which injured 10 people. Police reports also attributed this incident to ISIS supporters.
These attacks came shortly after another violent episode connected to ISIS. Last week, inmates at the Mako Brimob detention facility, a maximum security prison in Jakarta, staged a massive riot and succeeded in wresting control of three entire cell blocks for 36 hours. More than 150 prisoners were involved in the incident, in which inmates seized dozens of guns. Five security officers were taken hostage and brutally executed before the prisoners finally surrendered. Video footage of the riot - although yet to be authenticated - was released by ISIS-linked social media accounts and circulated by the Amaq media outlet. The images showed men in balaclavas brandishing weapons and standing with black and white ISIS flags.
The signs of ISIS propaganda making progress in Indonesia are pretty clear. Many analysts have pointed out that the Islamic State’s notorious method of leveraging social media and other online media to bring in supporters is being ignored by authorities. Reports have even revealed that one terror leader was given access to the internet while incarcerated, facilitating his ability to remotely orchestrate attacks.
The recent series of attacks, while not the first time ISIS supporters have struck Indonesia, should serve as a powerful wake-up call to authorities. Unlike other militant groups that have plagued Indonesia in the past, ISIS draws its effectiveness from its ability to appeal to large swaths of supporters and trigger lone wolf attacks. Clamping down on this propaganda campaign will be vital for Indonesia’s fight against extremism.