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Indonesia’s Terrorists Appear Weakened

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JAKARTA, Indonesia—Evidence found during a deadly police raid against suspected terrorists this week reinforced expert assessments that terror networks remain a weakened force in Indonesia, with militants eyeing a variety of major targets that appear largely beyond their connections, funding and expertise.

On Friday, two days after an all-night shootout that left six suspects dead near the Southeast Asian country’s capital, police announced they had found written evidence at the site of the raid calling for attacks on a list of targets that included the U.S. Embassy, hotels and the nation’s elite counterterrorism force. The U.S. Embassy declined to comment.

But though several small bombs were recovered, police offered no suggestion of well-developed plans against the major targets such as the embassy, and terrorism experts said that such capabilities didn’t align with the small group’s short history of bank robberies and attacks against police officers.

“Their capacity isn’t that high,” said Sidney Jones, head of the Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict. She described the group, who call themselves the Mujahidin Indonesia Barat, or Mujahedeen of Western Indonesia, as being more capable of ordinary crimes requiring fewer resources and planning.

In 2002, Indonesia suffered its worst terrorist attack, a bombing by Al-Qaeda-linked terrorists that killed 202 people. In 2004, near the peak of terrorist activity in the country, the Australian Embassy in Jakarta was hit by a deadly car bomb. Since late 2012, police have said they prevented a major attack on the U.S. Embassy and an attack on the Myanmar Embassy.

In texts found during the raid, the suspects also called for the “destruction” of the police’s elite, foreign-funded counterterrorism squad, police spokesman Boy Rafli Amar told reporters Friday.

But experts said a lack of training and connections to radicals overseas—another factor that distinguishes modern terrorism from activity a decade ago, when militants regularly trained in places like the Philippines and Pakistan—will continue to limit radicals to small attacks, such as at police outposts.

Of the six men killed by police this week, none appeared to have trained overseas. However, police said one was believed to be preparing himself to become a suicide bomber in Syria, where Islamic jihadists have been taking part in a rebellion against the government.

Terrorism experts said that any militants returning from Syria and exposure to more battle-hardened militants would bode ill for Indonesia.

“That would be a game changer,” said Ms. Jones. “In terms of the training they’d receive, and the exposure to global jihad.”

Indonesian radicals have raised funds for Sunni Muslims in the conflict in Syria, with several dozen joining humanitarian aid operations there and a small handful getting involved directly in combat, according to Muh Taufiqurrohman, an expert on terrorism issues at the Jakarta-based Abdurrahman Wahid Center.

Police said they believe that the suspects in this week’s raid, which they and terrorism experts linked to jailed Indonesian jihadist Abu Umar, were behind several police killings, a small bomb explosion at a Buddhist temple in Jakarta last August that left one person lightly injured, and bank robberies in the greater Jakarta metro area.

Police also alleged that the men were preparing a series of suicide attacks on Buddhist temples and police in the capital. Mr. Amar declined to offer details. Buddhists have been targeted in Indonesia as radicals protest conflict between the Buddhist majority and Muslim minority in nearby Myanmar.

The recovered texts also contained a list of what terrorism experts called the typical goals of any militant group in Indonesia: recruiting members, raising money, securing arms and developing technical skill in bomb making.

Except for recruitment, those goals have been more difficult since Indonesia raised its counterterrorism efforts in the wake of the bombings in Bali in 2002. In recent years, the terrorist threat has been reduced to small-scale attacks involving small arms and crude bombs.

Suicide bombers have been responsible for deadly strikes in Indonesia in the past, including in bombings of two five-star hotels in Jakarta that killed nine people, including two bombers, in 2009. Elsewhere on the island of Java, in 2011, one suicide bomber attacked a church, while another became the first suicide bomber to attack a mosque.

In June last year, a bomber blew himself up in an attempted attack on a police station in a terrorist stronghold in eastern Indonesia.

Published in Wall Street Journal on 3 January 2014 | Ben Otto and Joko Hariyanto

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