Indonesia was rocked by two terror attacks in May 2018, following the previous one in central Jakarta almost two years prior. A country that is no stranger to terrorism since the deadly bombings in Bali between 2002 and 2003, the latest attacks in Surabaya are a clear reminder that the threat of jihadism has never quite left its soil and could be making a comeback under the banner of the Islamic State (IS) group.
It has been acknowledged by authorities in Indonesia as well as southeast Asia that IS has been slowly creeping into the region as early as 2015 when the group started to lose territories in both Syria and Iraq. While some have expressed doubts whether the network has any direct involvement in the operation of local jihadist outfits, it is also hard to deny that the group does have a significant following in the region. There have in fact been several occasions in which groups such as Indonesia’s Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD) and Philippine-based Abu Sayyaf pledged allegiance to it. Regardless of the loose connection, the Surabaya attacks have highlighted several trends in the resurgence of jihadism in the country and the region.
For a start, the attacks marked the first time in which an entire family was used as tools to carry out an attack. In what seems to be a horrific and shocking act, the perpetrators’ usage of young children was also something new in this part of the world. As a society that stresses on family values and cohesiveness, the act could probably be tied with the concept of “amaliyah” in which the attackers believed that they will reunite in heaven after committing the act. Additionally, the attacks also underscored the role of women in violent extremism. In the latest attacks, it has been shown that mothers could also play a major role in radicalizing their children who are very unlikely to question their rationale in doing so.
Moving forward, the IS group could utilize such approaches more frequently in order to spread its message in this part of the world. While the perpetrators could be amateur, the lack of centralized leadership could also make them less visible to the authorities, thus complicating prevention efforts. Although the events in Surabaya have demonstrated the inefficiency of the attackers in terms of strategic and tactical elements, they still served the purpose of galvanizing support from the masses to the group as its influence winds down in the Middle East.
Despite a rather successful campaign in preventing major terrorist attacks, the battle against the spread of jihadism has never been easy for Indonesia and the involvement of family members is yet another indication that the deradicalization programme would need to be expanded. On a wider spectrum, President Joko Widodo’s approach might also require a change as he has often been regarded as “weak” compared to his predecessors. With an election set for 2019, the issue of national security is most likely to be raised up and Jokowi will need to assure voters that he has everything under control, in order to convince them to give him another term in office.
Following are the key events that have been reported by GWS during the terror attacks in Surabaya (local times in WIB):
- A bomb was detonated at the SMTB Church in Surabaya at 07:07 (GMT+7) on 13 May. It was reportedly caused two suicide bombers on a motorcycle.
- Initial report by local news outlet, Detik at 08:05 (GMT+7) on 13 May
- The Indonesian local news outlet Detik published an article of the event in which it confirmed the attack at the Catholic church in the city
- Initial alert (red with SMS) by GWS at 08:36 (GMT+7) on 13 May
- Event informing users on nature of incident as well as location based on various sources.
- First update (red with SMS) by GWS at 09:22 (GMT+7) on 13 May
- Update informing users about two separate attacks targeting churches on Diponegoro Street and Arjuno Street. The attacks happened at about 07:45 and 07:53 respectively.
- Second update by GWS (yellow) at 22:41 (GMT+7) on 13 May
- Another bombing was reported at an apartment during a counter-terrorist operation in Sidoarjo in the evening. There were no other casualties besides the perpetrators themselves.
- Third update (red with SMS) by GWS at 09:51 (GMT+7) on 14 May
- A day after the deadly attacks on churches in the city. Another suicide attack took place at the Surabaya police headquarters at about 08:50. The attacks left several police officers and civilians wounded. The terrorists were killed as well.
- Fourth update (yellow) by GWS at 13:57 (GMT+7) on 14 May
- An update containing general security measures taken by the Indonesian government following the bombings in Surabaya.