On 10 October 2019 two suspected terrorists stabbed the Indonesian coordinating minister of political and legal affairs, Wiranto, his assistant and chief of Menes police precinct in Pandeglang Banten. Fortunately, no one was killed in the attack.
The perpetrators are Syahrial Alamsyah aka Abu Rara and his wife Fitria Diana, members of Jamaah Ansharud Daulah (JAD) based in Bekasi. They are part of Abu Zee’s cell, consisting of Surya Juniawan aka Haidar Al-Ghazi, Asep Roni, Awal Septo Hadi, Sandi Purnama aka Abu Said, Igun Gunawan aka Gunawan, Devi Rusli Warni, Putri, Parjo and Ummu Farida.
Prior to the attack, Abu Rara pledged an oath of allegiance to Islamic State leader in September 2018 in a ceremony held in Rumah Singgah Manzil Ahlam, a safe house linked to JAD members in Kampung Inggris, Pare in Kediri, East Java. In October 2019, he also participated in idad (jihad preparation training) in the safe house, where he practiced archery and conduct physical fitness training. In addition, he planned to attack foreign workers at a cement factory in Mandalawangi, Pandeglang, Banten and rob a gold store in the area.
Why attacking Wiranto?
The couple attacked the minister because they believe that he is the enemy of Islam as stipulated by Islamic State ideology. The ideology groups God’s enemies into two different categories: the far enemy namely infidels such as American government and its allies, and the near enemy namely apostates including Indonesian government. The couple believe that Muslims need to firstly attack the near enemy, Indonesian government apparatuses including Wiranto for oppressing their fellow JAD members.
Attacking Wiranto also gives them a national media spotlight. This is certainly good for JAD to prove their existence and showcase their determination to fight against its enemy.
Indonesian police have arrested and detained the attackers. Despite this, we should expect possible attacks on government officers in future for two reasons.
First, today around 1000 JAD members still continue to preach extremism through religious gatherings at mosques and houses, Telegram channels, WhatsApp groups and Facebook pages. They also continue to prepare themselves for future attacks in Sumatra, Java, Kalimantan, Sulawesi, Nusa Tenggara, Maluku and Papua. In addition to these members, around 100 JAD linked individuals are doing the same in North Sumatra and Java.
Second, the attackers seemed to have inspired other Indonesian Islamic State Supporters. Members of WhatsApp groups run by JAD members, such as Darah Syahid Mengalir and Ashabul Kahfi, applauded the attackers for their brazen attack. It is possible that these supporters will follow their sample in future.
Political challenge in Indonesian counter-terrorism
In countering Islamic State and al-Qaeda inspired terrorism, Indonesian government is facing a political challenge from anti-government groups, that mainly come from Islamists and former Prabowo supporters. The groups associate government’s counter-terrorism efforts with a war on Islam, distraction of national issues such as corruption, low economic growth and violation of freedom of speech or human rights.
Following the attack, the groups accused Wiranto of staging the attack to get attention from the public and justify the disbursement of deradicalization fund. One of those creating and spreading such narrative was a parliament and the National Mandate Party member, Hanum Salsabiela Rais. The groups also accused the government of using the attack to spread a black propaganda against Muslims, distract the society from police brutality against the protesters of the revised KPK Bill and Criminal Code, and justify the government’s disbandment plan of Islamic Defenders Front.
Previously, the anti-government groups responded similarly to the May 2018 Church Bombings in Surabaya. They accused the government of orchestrating the bombings to distract the society from the #2019 Replace the President movement. Police arrested three people for spreading this narrative through their Facebook pages. One of them, Himma Dewiyana Lubis, was sentenced to 1 year of imprisonment for violating Article 28 (2) of ITE Law Number 11/2008. The Medan District Court decided that she knowingly and without authority disseminated information aimed at inflicting hatred or dissension on individuals and/or certain groups of community based on ethnic groups, religions, races, and inter-groups (SARA). However, police did not touch a senior member of a pro-Prabowo group called Garda 212, Ansufri Idrus Sambo, who spread similar narrative in national media. At that time, police probably feared a political backlash from Prabowo supporters.
What the groups did provides support for terrorists. It does not only delegitimize government’s counter-terrorism efforts but also spreads suspicion and hatred toward the government; and this is the kind of political support the terrorists need from the public.
Unfortunately, it hampers government’s efforts in enforcing the Revised Anti-Terrorism Law and Electronic Information and Transactions (ITE) Law strictly because the government has to consider political correctness in doing that. Consequently, Indonesia continues to be a fertile terrorist breeding ground.
The way forward
Indonesian police need to arrest around 1000 JAD members scattered throughout Indonesia for spreading Islamic State propaganda and training themselves for future attacks. Unless they are arrested, it is only a matter of time until they attack other government officials, security agency members, Shia members and non-Muslims.
Indonesian government also needs to seriously build a hostile environment for terrorist recruitment and development by fighting against pro-terrorist hoax and misinformation. To do this, government should enforce the Electronic Information and Transactions (ITE) Law strictly without considering political correctness. The failure to do so will only allow terrorist supporters to keep spreading fake news and misinformation regarding terrorist attacks, thus delegitimizing government’s fight against terrorism and extremism.
Desca Angelianawati is a research assistant at the Centre for Radicalism and Deradicalization Studies | PAKAR.