Jakarta was taken by surprise by the attacks. Source Wikimedia
Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attack by suicide bombers and gunmen in central Jakarta on Thursday, the first time the group has targeted the archipelago.
Only seven people were killed in multiple blasts and a firefight, and five of them were the attackers, but the daylight strike has been labelled a new brand of militancy in a country where low-level strikes on police are common.
It took the Indonesian security forces about three hours to end the attack near a Starbucks cafe and Sarinah’s, which is Jakarta’s oldest department store, after a team of attackers exchanged gunfire with the security forces and blew themselves up.
An Indonesian and a Canadian citizen were killed and 20 people, including an Algerian, Austrian, German and Dutchman, were wounded.
The blasts were clustered around Thamrin Street, a major shopping district close to foreign embassies and the UN offices.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo described the attacks as an “act of terror”.
“We all are grieving for the fallen victims of this incident, but we also condemn the act that has disturbed the security and peace and spread terror among our people,” he said.
Islamic State, while claiming that 15 people had been killed, said: “A group of soldiers of the caliphate in Indonesia targeted a gathering from the crusader alliance that fights the Islamic State in Jakarta.”
Jakarta’s police chief told a press conference: “Isis is behind this attack definitely”, saying an Indonesian extremist called Bahrun Naim was responsible for the attack.
Police say Naim is in Raqqa in Syria.
Rolling news covered the attack detailing at least six explosions and a firefight in a cinema. Analysts said the low death toll suggested the attackers were Indonesians with poor weapons.
“The president has said the nation and the people should not be scared and should not be defeated by acts of terror,” said palace spokesman Ari Dwipayana.
Black armoured-personnel carriers filled the streets within minutes of the first attack, snipers were deployed and helicopters flew above the scene.
Jakarta police chief Tito Karnavian said one man entered the Starbucks cafe and blew himself up, wounding several inside.
As people fled the cafe, two waiting gunmen opened fire on them. Two other militants attacked a nearby police traffic post, using what was described as hand grenade.
Indonesia has experienced militant strikes before but a coordinated assault by a team is unprecedented and reminiscent of the 2008 Mumbai attacks and the Paris turmoil in November.
Security analyst Yohanes Sulaiman said the attacks came as a surprise because the Indonesian police had so far managed to prevent attacks effectively through surveillance over the known radical personnel.
Since the attacks on Bali in 2002 and on the Marriott and Ritz Carlton hotels in Kuningan, Jakarta, in 2009, there had been no major strikes.
Sulaiman said: “The police have left little room for complacency in their ensuing crackdown. What they haven’t done is contain the seeping radicalism, which in turn supplies foot soldiers for these extremist groups.
“The ambition of this gun and bomb attack was immense but early reports of how it unfolded suggest a degree of inexperience. If they wanted to exact a heavy death toll, they failed. They certainly struck at the heart of Indonesia’s capital but their attack appeared haphazard and showed little evidence of clear co-ordination.
“The early evidence suggest an amateur group, rather than the generation of militants trained in Syria and Afghanistan. Compare this to the Marriott attack in 2009 which was brazen in a very different way, where we saw militants smuggle bomb parts into the hotel piece by piece until they were ready for a large and deadly detonation.
“To answer this, it is important to recall Indonesia’s complicated history of Islamist radical movements. In the 1980s a group of radical Islamists, who wanted to make Indonesia an Islamic state, went to Afghanistan to fight the Soviets and developed links with al-Qaeda. Those groups developed considerable expertise in the deadly bomb attacks that Indonesia suffered later.
Sulaiman added: “But after the Bali and Marriott bombings, much of that generation ended up in jail: they were also identified by the police, limiting their freedom of movement. In recent years, too, the police have managed to control and neutralise those foreign militants who made an appearance in training camps that cropped up in the Sulawesi region.”