The widow of a man who blew himself up outside a police station in the Indonesian city of Medan had discussed launching an attack on Bali island, police said Thursday as investigators sought the bomber’s religious teacher.
Rabbial Muslim Nasution, a 24-year-old university student, set off an explosive belt at city police headquarters in Medan on Wednesday after passing through a routine security check at the entrance, killing himself and injuring six others, including four police officers, officials said.
Rabbial’s widow, who was arrested late Wednesday and whom the authorities identified only by her initials, D.A., had talked with a female inmate held at the city’s women’s prison about plotting an attack on Indonesia’s most popular tourist destination, national police spokesman Dedi Prasetyo said.
“In their online communications, they planned a terrorist act on Bali. We are delving into that,” Dedi told reporters.
Dedi said Rabbial might have been influenced by his widow, adding that she underwent radicalization first.
“We suspect that he was exposed [to extremism] through his wife,” Dedi said, adding police are trying to determine if they were part of a militant network.
The Terrorism Research and Analysis Consortium, a think-tank, said supporters of Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD), an Indonesian militant network affiliated with Islamic State (IS) extremists, claimed via online messaging that Rabbial had pledged allegiance to its new caliph, Abu Ibrahim al-Hashemi al-Quraishi, on the eve of the Medan attack.
Authorities in Indonesia and other Southeast Asian countries had warned of potential terrorist attacks to avenge the death of the top IS leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who blew himself up as U.S. Special Forces pursued him during a raid in Syria late last month.
In a separate development on Thursday, counter-terrorism officers announced the arrests of 10 suspected members of JAD. They were arrested on Java island and the Sumatran province of Riau between Saturday and Wednesday, Dedi said.
Three of the six people who were injured in Wednesday’s bombing underwent surgery, according to Antonius Ginting, chief of the Bhayangkara Police Hospital in Medan, the capital of North Sumatra province. Officials did not release information on the victims’ conditions.
Analyst Sidney Jones said Rabbial and his widow might have joined a group on the instant messaging service Telegram, whose members were IS supporters.
Any claim attributed to IS about Wednesday’s suicide attack should be treated with caution, said Jones, director of the Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC).
“We have to be careful about such claims. In the past, when ISIS made claims, we could believe them. But in the past six months, they have claimed things that had nothing to do with them,” Jones told BenarNews, using a different acronym for Islamic State.
Jones said that information about plans to launch an attack on Bali should be taken with a grain of salt.
“It could mean that Bali has been mentioned but that doesn’t mean there was any operational planning,” she said.
Jones also cast doubt on whether JAD was involved in the Medan attack.
“In general, Medan people are not affiliated to JAD. There was never a JAD structure in Medan,” she said.
Meanwhile, police said they were looking for a man who had been described as Rabbial’s spiritual teacher.
“We have the identity of the alleged imam,” North Sumatra Deputy Police Chief Mardiaz Kusin Dwihananto told reporters.
The bombing took place a month after two suspected IS-linked militants stabbed then-Security Minister Wiranto and two other people as he was visiting Banten province.
Police have arrested at least 40 people across the country since the Oct. 10 attack on Wiranto, including those allegedly planning attacks on police targets and houses of worship on Java.
Four linked to fighting in Syria
Of the 10 suspected militants arrested since Saturday, four had fought alongside IS in the conflict in Syria, Dedi said. It was not clear when the four returned to Indonesia from the Middle East.
“There are those who participated in military training and fought alongside ISIS in Syria,” the spokesman said.
That region is home to many more alleged militants as an Indonesian counter-terrorism official has said there are an estimated 1,500 IS fighters and their families from Indonesia, including 700 in three camps. The government has not decided whether to repatriate them, saying it is in the process of verifying their citizenship.
Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority country, has been hit by a string of terrorist attacks in the past two decades, with more recent strikes being blamed on JAD militants.
Last year, two families blew themselves up at three churches and a police station in coordinated suicide attacks in the East Java city of Surabaya. Those bombings, which authorities tied to JAD, killed 24 people, including children as young as 9 who joined their parents in the attacks.