2018/66, 17 May 2018
On Sunday morning, 13 March 2018, between 6.30-7.53am, suicide bombers carried out deadly attacks on three churches, namely the Santa Maria Tak Bercela Catholic Church, the Indonesian Christian Church at Diponegoro Street and the Pantekosta Church at Arjuno Street. At least 14 persons were killed and 41 injured. The national police chief Tito Karnavian said that these attacks were perpetrated by one family, consisting of a father, a mother and four children -two of them under twelve years old, who had returned to Indonesia from Syria. ISIS has claimed responsibility for the attacks. On Sunday evening the police’s anti-terror unit found four home-made bombs in a residential home allegedly belonging to the perpetrators.
A second bomb exploded in a low-cost housing in Sidoarjo near Surabaya, killing three people the same Sunday evening. Police said that this was also perpetrated by a family including the father, the mother and a child. On Monday morning, another bomb exploded, this time at Surabaya police-headquarters, injuring policemen and civilians.
The Sunday morning bombings were the worst since 2000, when a string of attacks on Christmas Eve killed 15 people and injured more than 100 others. Since then, churches and temples, have sporadically been targeted by hardline groups who forced their closure or ransacked them.
The Sunday morning attacks occurred only days after a gruesome stand-off took place in Jakarta on Thursday 10 May at a maximum-security prison which housed high-risk terrorist convicts. In this incident, for which ISIS also claimed responsibility, five policemen who were held hostage were killed by some inmates. Early on Sunday in West Java, the police’s anti-terror unit also killed four alleged terrorists who were members of an extremist group, Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD), which is affiliated to ISIS. Police said that the four men planned to attack police headquarters in Jakarta and Bandung. JAD and Jamaah Ansharut Tauhid (JAT) were involved in the Jakarta bombings in 2016. The police said that these two groups were also responsible for the Sunday morning attacks in Surabaya.
President Joko Widodo, in his visit to Surabaya, called the attacks “barbaric and beyond the limit of humanity” and asked for the people to be united in combatting terrorism. The Indonesian Church Association, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) and Muhammadiyah all condemned the attacks.
Until 2013, religious life in East Java province, the home-base of the NU, was known to be relatively harmonious. That year, mobs violently forced the Shi’I minority community to relocate to Sidoarjo. In a joint statement with leaders of different religions on Sunday evening, NU has called for unity, supported the police in their investigation and urged politicians to refrain from making statements that disrupt harmony. Meanwhile, thousands of Surabaya residents from different religions gathered at the Heroes Monument -the city’s iconic symbol- to show solidarity for the victims and support religious harmony.
These incident raise questions on the capacity of the authorities in anticipating terror attacks. They highlight the need for the Parliament (DPR) to urgently expedite the ratification of the new anti-terrorism law which has been deliberated since 2016. The ratification has been put on hold following disagreement on the definition of “terrorism” and the extent of military involvement in combatting terrorism. The current 2003 anti-terrorism Law limits preventive/pro-active measures by the police. For example, they cannot apprehend terrorist “sleeping” cells without adequate evidence, even when these cells have been identified. The recent incidents however, have shown that the government urgently needs a stronger legal framework to prevent terrorism. President Jokowi has threatened to enact a Presidential Decree if there is further delay by Parliament to ratify the proposed anti-terrorism laws.
Dr Deasy Simandjuntak is Visiting Fellow with ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute.
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