Indonesian police surrounde Mako Brimob headquarters seized by Pro-Isamic State detainees in May 2018 (Photo source: kumparan.com)

This analysis was published in the Counter Terrorist Trends and Analysis (ISSN 2382-6444 | Volume 11, Issue 1 | January 2019), a journal of the International Center for Political Violence and Terrorism Research (ICPVTR) of the Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore


In 2018, there were increased terrorist attacks in Indonesia. While there were 12 terrorist attacks and five foiled plots in 2017[1] this year there were 15 attacks and 12 foiled plots. Overall, the violence killed 8 police officers, 12 civilians and 31 terrorists, and injured 14 police officers, 72 civilians and 4 terrorists.[2] The Mako Brimob siege and Surabaya bombings represent the most significant terrorist attacks in 2018. While the Mako Brimob siege resulted in the highest number of police casualties in one incident, the Surabaya bombings became the first successful attack involving women and the deadliest series of bombings in Indonesia since the 2005 Bali attack. Improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and suicide bombings were the preferred tactics for terrorists, who also employed stabbings and shootings alternately. The most active terrorist groups included Jamaah Ansharud Daulah (JAD)[3], the largest Indonesian pro-Islamic State (IS) terrorist group. Other active groups include Jamaah Ansharul Khilafah (JAK), which is another Indonesian pro-IS group formerly known as Katibah al-Iman[4], and the Lion of Allah. Other indications of IS presence was seen in the form of individuals and smaller cells linked to IS.

In response to the attacks, the Indonesian government has taken counter measures against JAD and other pro-IS groups. Detachment 88, the police’s counter terrorism unit, arrested close to 376 terrorist suspects and killed 24 others.[5] Indonesian National Counter-Terrorism Agency (BNPT) attempted to deradicalise close to 500 terrorist prisoners, former prisoners and their families.[6] By October 2018, Detachment 88 and the Directorate General of Corrections (Dirjen Pas) placed 252 pro-IS individuals in three maximum-security prisons.[7] Indonesian parliament passed the revised 2003 Anti-Terrorism Law (ATL) to allow police to detain terrorist suspects for a longer period. The South Jakarta District Court issued a decision banning JAD and criminalising its members. Despite these counter measures, JAD and other pro-S groups are still recruiting members and planning attacks.

Continued Violence, Common Targets and Evolving Tactics

Attack Targets: Security Forces, Christians and Democracy

the majority of terrorist attacks in 2018 were conducted by JAD. Members of the Lion of Allah and a splinter cell of JAK attempted to conduct attacks but failed. On 21 February 2018, a lone-wolf targeted a priest and three St. Ludwina Church members was reported in Yogyakarta.[8] Some of the main targets included law enforcement officials and religious minorities specifically Christians. The police was targeted to take revenge for arrests and killings of JAD members and other Indonesian IS supporters. Christians were targeted due to the violence against Muslims in Syria by the ‘Western Christians’ in the international coalition. JAD members also attempted to attack regional election booths in West and East Java. [9] This represented their opposition towards democracy, which is seen as un-Islamic.

Evolution of Attack Tactics

First, compared to 2017, knife attacks remained the most preferred tactic in 2018 as they provided a low-cost alternative to bombs and guns. Knife attacks and stabbings occurred in the Probolinggo attack on 13 February, Yogyakarta attacks on 21 February and 5 July 5, Mako Brimob attacks on 9 May, Riau attack on 14 May, Jambi attack on 22 May, Brebes attack on 12 July and Cirebon attack on 22 July. The Mako Brimob siege showcased stabbings as a key tactic, and was triggered by overcrowded prison cells and shortage of prison officers. This allowed the inmates to break their cell doors, overpower the officers and attack them using knives and broken window glasses.[10] The successful siege motivated JAD members outside the prison to attack police officers in Sumatra and Java.   

Second, bombings, particularly suicide bombings, were the next preferred tactic for attacks as witnessed in the 13 May Surabaya bombings that killed 25 people and wounded 57 others.[11]. This is the first successful suicide attack involving families in Indonesia. This attack highlighted that terrorists involved women and children because it allowed them to avoid police detection. It also showed that women are depicting increased motivation to participate in violent attacks. Three JAD families had participated in the Surabaya bombings. On 13 May, a family of six attacked Santa Maria Catholic Church, Surabaya Centre Pentecostal Church and Diponegoro Indonesian Christian Church in Surabaya. On 14 May, another family of five attacked Surabaya police headquarters. Another  family of three failed to conduct the bombing due to a premature accidental explosion in their apartment.[12] Lastly, shooting was the least preferred tactic because it was difficult to obtain guns. On 22 July, two JAD members stabbed a police officer in Cirebon to seize his gun. On 24 August, they used the gun to shoot two police officers on Kanci-Pejagan toll road near Cirebon, West Java.[13]      

Securing Territorial Bases

Following the defeat of IS in Raqqa (Syria) and Marawi (Philippines), terrorists attempted to build secure bases in Central and East Java, from where they would plan and perpetrate attacks.[14] These bases were similar to those built by the Mujahedeen of Eastern Indonesia in Poso (Central Sulawesi). Once they succeeded in building these provinces, they planned to enforce Islamic law and conduct attacks in other areas of Indonesia. The cases of Muhammad Fatwa’s JAD cell in Probolinggo (East Java) and the Lion of Allah group in Kebumen (Central Java) highlight this trend.[15]

Al-Qaeda Linked Groups

Members of Al-Qaeda linked groups such as Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) and Jamaash Ansyarusy Syariah (JAS) did not conduct any attack in 2018. This does not mean that they do not pose threat in future because they continued to engage in idad (jihad preparation) and paramilitary trainings. Reports revealed that close to 68 JAS and JI members conducted a joint idad on Mount Lawu in Magetan (East Java) on March 24.[16] JI members also attempted to travel to Syria join two different Al-Qaeda affiliated groups, including Hai’ah Tahrir al-Syam (HTS and Huras al-Din in Syria, to receive training and gain combat experience. Five of them, included young JI members from Central and West Java, who failed to reach Syria and were deported to Indonesia by Turkish government. [17]  

Government Responses and Prison Reforms

On May 25, Indonesian parliament passed the revised 2003 anti-terrorism law (ATL), which allows police to pre-emptively detain terrorist suspects for 14 to 21 days before deciding to release or prosecute them. Previously, police were only given seven days to interrogate the suspects.[18] It also allows police to prosecute those who join or recruit for terrorist groups.[19] The South Jakarta District Court strengthened the revised law by legally banning JAD and criminalising its members on 31 July.[20]  This permitted the police to arrest 376 and kill 22 suspected terrorists when they were hunting down JAD members responsible for Surabaya bombings and other attacks.

The verdict by the court is not entirely effective as it does not ban all terrorist groups. Other terrorist groups such as IS, Al-Qaeda and their domestic affiliates including Mujahidin Indonesia Timur (MIT) and JAK should be criminalised as well. Consequently, JAK leaders are still able to preach IS ideology freely and leaders of Al-Qaeda linked groups are still conducting recruitment and fundraising operations without being arrested. As of September 2018, the police had arrested 350 terrorists[21] and placed 124 of them in 10 police detention centres across Indonesia.[22]  This high number of arrests posed a new problem due to lack of interrogators and police approved solicitors who provide legal assistance to the arrestees. In addition, Indonesian courts do not have enough qualified prosecutors to indict terrorist suspects fairly. As of October 2018, only the prosecutors in Jakarta district courts handled terrorism cases. Consequently, prosecutors are overwhelmed and were not able to prosecute terrorist suspects effectively as, they had to try 20 to 22 terrorist suspects in one day at the East Jakarta District Court on 17 October alone.[23] In addition, the suspects were handed sentences as low as 3.5 to 6 years.

Inadequate prison facilities pose a problem as prisons are overcrowded, leading to continued recruitment operations in prisons. For instance, female prisoners in Polda Metro Jaya prison in Jakarta, led by Anggi Indah Kusuma, consolidated themselves and strengthened their commitment to support IS. They worked together making IS flag and bandanas, and decorating their cell wall with pro-IS motivational pamphlets.[24] A male prisoner, Muhammad Basri aka Bagong, a member of the Mujahedeen of Eastern Indonesia, recruited non-terrorist prisoners into extremism in Permisan Prison, Nusa Kambangan Island (Central Java). 

By October 2018, Detachment 88 and the Directorate General of Corrections (Dirjen Pas) placed 252 pro-IS prisoners in three maximum-security prisons. This included 83 prisoners in Pasir Putih Prison, 36 prisoners in Batu Prisons (both on Nusa Kambangan Island, Central Java) and 133 in Gunung Sindur Prison (Bogor, West Java).[25] Despite being placed in solitary confinement, a security threat persists due to the shortage of prison guards. An attack threat from Wahyudi aka Abu Zinnirah who encouraged his prison mates to attack prison officers in Pasir Putih Prison prompted police to commit to provide a security back up for the prison.[26]

A lack of prison doctors and psychiatrists has contributed to little improvement in the health condition of the prisoners. In May to October, four prisoners died and reports of two others suffering from depression and schizophrenia emerged.[27]  Prisoners in non-maximum-security prisons were still able to smuggle mobile phones into their cells. As a result, they are able to communicate each other using Telegram messenger service. For instance, a prisoner in Mojokerto prison (East Java) successfully communicated with prisoners in Besi Prison (Central Java) and Cirebon prison.[28]    

Deradicalisation Efforts

BNPT currently has close to 500 former prisoners involved in de-radicalisation programs, including their families. It is also incorporating an economic development outlook, which aims to provide former detainees with IDR 5 to 10 million to buy capital needed for small businesses. Unfortunately, the recipients were not given enough time to plan their business; therefore, most of them failed.[29] BNPT has an active deradicalisation program in the Sentul prison in Bogor (West Java). However, inaccurate assessment of the participants has led to recidivism. Isnaini Romadhoni returned to terrorism by training JAD members in Probolinggo bomb making techniques upon his release. On 3 July 2018, three other participants, Moch Ramuji, Sayfudin Al Fahmi and Imran aka Genda were transferred to Pasir Putih maximum-security prison because they refused to abandon IS ideology.

Policy Recommendations

IS-linked terrorists will continue to operate in the country with limited movement towards Iraq, Syria or Philippines. In addition, possible attack targeting the general and presidential elections in April 2019 are inevitable due to three reasons. First, IS-linked terrorists oppose elections as they are regarded as un-Islamic. Second, they want to remain active and gain recognition. Third, the theme of reprisal or revenge attacks is present as the terrorist seeks to avenge the arrests and killing of their group members. As such, the Indonesian government should closely monitor the remaining 1,032 JAD members scattered in North Sumatra, Riau, South Sumatra, Lampung, Jakarta, Central Java, East Java, East Java, South Sulawesi, Central Sulawesi, Maluku and Papua.[30] Although MIT appears to be inactive in Poso, the Indonesian government needs to closely monitor it. MIT has smuggled weapons from the Philippines in the past and is likely to make similar attempts to increase violence during the 2019 election.

In order to accommodate the high number of arrests, police and Dirjen Pas need to build a large detention centre specialised to detain terrorist suspects that face trials in Jakarta. Dirjen Pas also needs to complete the Karanganyar prison on Nusa Kambangan Island. Both the suspects and prisoners should categorised into solitary cells based on low-risk, medium-risk and high-risk blocks according to the degree of involvement in terrorism. This will prevent consolidation and strengthening of ideology and decrease the possibility of prison riots.  

In order to prevent a sustained network between prisoners and their supporters outside the prison. Detachment 88 and Dirjen Pas need to impose new rules for prison visitors. The visitors should only come from the prisoners’ immediate family members and should carry individual visit permits. Released prisoners, especially those linked to JAD, still pose a threat due to their training in violence and determination to attack.  They can possibly regroup with pro-IS extremists and attack non-Muslims and police officers. It is key for BNPT and Detachment-88 to create a special deradicalisation program and team that deradicalises these prisoners and their families.

Muh Nahdohdin is a Senior Researcher at the Center for Radicalism and Deradicalization Studies, an NGO based in Indonesia, Desca Angelianawati is a research assistant at the same NGO and Ardi Putra Prasetya is a postgraduate student at the University of Indonesia.

[1] Muh Taufiqurrohman et al, “Indonesia,” Counter Terrorist Trends and Analyses, 10, no. 1 (2018): 11.

[2] Desca Angelianawati, Kumpulan Insiden Terorisme 2018 (Centre for Radicalism and Deradicalization Studies|PAKAR, 2018).

[3] JAD was formally established in end of November 2015 in a meeting of IS supporters in Malang, East Java. In the meeting, participants agreed to form a new group to unite IS supporters in Indonesia. Hari Budiman alias Abu Musa named the group JAD based on Aman Abdurrahman’s instruction. IPAC reported that the Malang meeting participants called their new group Jamaah Ansharul Khilafah (JAK); but, this contradicts JAD leaders’ statements about the history of JAD given to police. Abdul Zatil alias Fauzan Mubarak stated that Aman Abdurrahman had officially used the term JAD Aman appointed him as JAD leader in Central Java in early 2015 before the meeting in Malang was held. Please see Police Interrogation Report of Zaenal Anshori, October 28, 2017; Police Interrogation Report of Abdul Zatil alias Fauzan Mubarak; and Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict, Disunity Among Indonesian Isis Supporters And The Risk Of More Violence, February 1, 2016.  

[4] JAK is currently led by Abdur Rohim bin Thoyib alias Abu Husna, former Jemaah Islamiyah member.  

[5] Desca Angelianawati, Kumpulan Penangkapan Teroris 2018 (Centre for Radicalism and Deradicalization Studies|PAKAR, 2018).

[6] Conversation with a BNPT staff, October 2018.

[7] Conversation with a Dirjen Pas staff, October 2018. 

[8] Ganung Nugroho Adi and Arya Dipa, “Church attacker thought to be lone-wolf,” The Jakarta Post, 14 February 2018, http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2018/02/14/church-attacker-thought-be-lone-wolf.html. (accessed November 22, 2018).

[9] Audrey Santoso, ” Terduga Teroris di Depok Rencanakan Aksi Saat Pilkada Jabar,” Detik News, June 23, https://news.detik.com/berita/4079713/terduga-teroris-di-depok-rencanakan-aksi-saat-pilkada-jabar. (accessed October 1, 2018).

[10] Conversation with a police officer familiar with the Mako Brimob siege investigation, October 2018. 

[11] Abi Sarwanto, “Korban Tewas Teror Bom Surabaya 28 Orang, 57 Luka,” CNN Indonesia, May 14, https://www.cnnindonesia.com/nasional/20180514194201-12-298164/korban-tewas-teror-bom-surabaya-28-orang-57-luka. (accessed October 15, 2018).

[12] Devianti Faridz et al, “Three families were behind the ISIS-inspired bombings in Indonesia’s Surabaya, police said,” CNN, May 15, https://edition.cnn.com/2018/05/13/asia/indonesia-attacks-surabaya-intl/index.html. (accessed October 18, 2018).

[13] Farouk Arnaz, “Densus 88 Kills Two Terror Suspects Allegedly Involved in Attack on Traffic Police,” The Jakarta Globe, September 3, https://jakartaglobe.id/news/densus-88-kills-two-terror-suspects-allegedly-involved-in-attack-on-traffic-police/. (accessed October 11, 2018).

[14] Police Interrogation Report of Fatony, June 20, 2018 and Court indictment of Isnaini Ramdhoni, case number 2023/Pid.Sus/2018/PN Jkt.Brt.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Report from field observation, March 24, 2018.

[17] Court indictiment of Dede Anung Somantri, case dossier number 1038/Pid.Sus/2018/PN Jkt.Tim.

[18] Fauziah Mursid and Bayu Hermawan, “UU Antiterorisme Perpanjang Masa Penahanan Terduga Teroris,” Republika, May 25, 2018, https://www.republika.co.id/berita/nasional/hukum/18/05/25/p9af2t354-uu-antiterorisme-perpanjang-masa-penahanan-terduga-teroris. (accessed 15 October 2018).

[19] Tabita Diela, “Indonesia toughens up anti-terror laws days after worst attack in years,” Reuters, May 25, 2018, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-indonesia-security-bill/indonesia-toughens-up-anti-terror-laws-days-after-worst-attack-in-years-idUSKCN1IQ0DQ. (accessed 15 October 2018).

[20] Kharishar Kahfi, “BREAKING: Court bans Islamic State-linked JAD,” The Jakarta Post, July 31, 2018. http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2018/07/31/breaking-court-bans-islamic-state-linked-jad.html. (accessed 16 October 2018).

[21] Audrey Santoso, “350 Terduga Teroris Ditangkap Paska Kerusuhan Mako brimob,” Detik News, November 22, https://news.detik.com/berita/4196700/350-terduga-teroris-ditangkap-pasca-kerusuhan-mako-brimob, 4 September 2018.  (accessed 22 November 2018).

[22] PAKAR record of 2018 terrorist detainees.

[23] Field observation in Jakarta District Courts, October 2018.

[24] Conversation with a source familiar with Polda Metro Jaya prison, October 2018.

[25] Conversation with a Dirjen Pas staff, October 2018. 

[26] Conversation with a Dirjen Pas staff, November 2018.

[27] Conversation with a Dirjen Pas staff, October 2018.

[28] Conversation with a source monitoring the communication between the prisoners, October 2018.

[29] Conversation with BNPT deradicalization program, March 2018.

[30] Centre for Radicalism and Deradicalization Studies (PAKAR), List of Indonesian ISIS and al-Qaeda Supporters, October 2018.


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