Suicide bombing in Jakarta prompts Government action against hardliners, but moves are mainly symbolic and will have limited effect
Two suicide bombers detonated their explosives at an East Jakarta bus terminal on 24 May, killing three policemen who were escorting a traditional parade to mark the start of Ramadan. The authorities later said the individuals were members of Jamaah Ansharut Daulah, a local pro-Islamic State (IS) group, and linked them to a bombing in the West Java city of Bandung in February. In response, President Joko Widodo (known as Jokowi) promised to defend the country’s official secular principle of Pancasila, which is seen as underpinning Indonesia’s racial and ethnic diversity. The authorities also arrested numerous suspected jihadists, including in Bandung. The Home Office Minister also said the Government was planning to outlaw Hizb ut-Tahrir Indonesia, the local branch of the global Islamist group, which like IS aims to re-create the Caliphate, although without using jihadist violence.
The attack, almost certainly conducted by local IS sympathisers, was likely aimed at both the security forces and, to a lesser extent, the Ramadan parade. This was intended to appeal to hardline Islamists and members of rival jihadist groups, who often resent the police for their role in suppressing Islamist organisations. They also typically see such traditional parades, which often borrow heavily from non-Islamist traditions, as heretical and un-Islamic. IS’s Amaq news agency claimed credit for the attack, although it said only one attacker was responsible. Such errors are common in Amaq claims for South East Asian operations and reflect the limited nature of contacts between local jihadists and IS’s leadership in Iraq and Syria. In addition, the bombs - primitive pressure cooker devices carried in bags - were similar to those used in the Bandung attack. This further suggests that IS provides only limited direct support for Indonesian jihadists, and that their capabilities consequently remain limited.
The Government’s high profile response is intended to show it regaining the initiative, especially after Jokowi’s former ally, the Christian ex-Governor of Jakarta, Basuki Tjahaja Purnama (Ahok) was convicted of blasphemy last month following a campaign by hardline Islamists (see our last Report). However, many of the Government’s moves are largely symbolic. For instance, Hizb ut-Tahrir has very limited local support. In addition, the group’s doctrinal reluctance to work with other groups and its rejection of any engagement with democratic process means it has very limited links with larger conservative, Islamist and jihadist groups, or with mainstream politicians. As a result, the Government’s move to proscribe the group is a dramatic – but largely cost-free – move, which will have limited effect on militancy and do little to deter more politically engaged hardliners.