Updated at 5:06 p.m. ET on 2018-08-23
Australia warned that it obtained information about potential terrorist attacks targeting Indonesia and asked its diplomats to not attend a scheduled Thursday event in Surabaya, the second largest Indonesian city where suicide bombings occurred three months ago.
“We continue to receive information indicating terrorists may be planning attacks in Indonesia,” Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said in an advisory posted on its Smarttraveller website on Wednesday.
“Due to heightened security concerns, staff at the Australian Consulate-General in Surabaya will not be attending an event at the Airlangga University in Surabaya on 23 August. Australian officials in Surabaya are currently adopting enhanced security measures and limiting their movements,” the message said.
On Thursday, the American embassy in Jakarta followed up with its own alert about a security threat at Airlangga University. The embassy cited media reports indicating the potential threat of terrorist attacks in Surabaya and other parts of Indonesia, “including the potential targeting of Western interests at Airlangga.”
“Out of an abundance of caution the U.S. Consulate General in Surabaya is closing its American Corner at Airlangga University on August 23,” the embassy said in an advisory posted on its website.
A security analyst at the Indonesian Center for Radicalism and Deradicalism Studies (PAKAR), Adhe Bhakti, said the threat emerged in online chatter among supporters of the extremist group Islamic State (IS).
“There was some kind of a call to conduct amaliah (code for a terror attack) in Surabaya with Australian officials who were scheduled to attend an event at a university there,” Adhe told BenarNews, without giving details.
The Reuters news agency, citing two security sources who spoke on condition of anonymity, reported that Australia’s elevated security measures were linked to a posting circulating on social media that called on Indonesians in Surabaya and surrounding East Java province to harm Australian officials.
Earlier this month, Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop opened Australia’s first consulate-general in Surabaya.
In mid-May, suicide bombers attacked three churches and a police headquarters in the city. At least 12 people were killed as well as 10 members of two families who were blamed for carrying out the bombings that were linked with a pro-IS Indonesian militant network, Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD), according to police.
Since then, Indonesian authorities have arrested more than 300 suspected militants and killed 21 others across the country.
Meanwhile, a pro-IS group calling itself the Hacking Division of the Anshar Caliphate Army issued a one-minute audio message on social media in which it threatened to attack the Indonesian government. The message in English with Indonesian subtitles was read by a male voice that sounded computer-generated.
The message vowed to avenge actions taken by Indonesia against Anshar’s “brothers,” such as the blocking of their social media accounts.
“We will reply to everything you have done. We will fight and terrorize you in the real world and the virtual world. We will attack and terrorize you in cyberspace.”
The recording’s authenticity could not be immediately verified.
On Thursday, Indonesian National Police spokesman Muhammad Iqbal declined to comment on the message, saying he had not heard it. Elsewhere, a spokesman for the National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT) could not be reached for comment.
Local supporters of IS, which was banned in Indonesia in 2014, have directed threats at the government in the past.
In April 2015, a pro-IS group threatened to storm Nusakambangan, a prison island off Central Java, to free the leader of JAD, Aman Abdurrahman, who was being held there, in an audio message posted on YouTube.
The threat never materialized.
Aman was freed from custody in August 2017 but was immediately rearrested for his involvement in a series of attacks in the country in recent years.
In June 2018, a Jakarta court sentenced him to death for masterminding terrorist strikes, including a gun and bomb attack in central Jakarta that killed four perpetrators and four bystanders in January 2016.
An expert on terrorism at Malikussaleh University in Aceh, Al Chaidar, said the latest threat could be just a bluff.
“There have been many threats that did not materialize,” he said.
But, he added, Indonesian security authorities should remain vigilant and not underestimate the threat.