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IS Claims First Strike on Indonesian Soil

Ismira Lutfia Tisnadibrata and Arie Firdaus
2016-01-14
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People rush to get away from a gunman during attacks in Jakarta, Jan. 14, 2016.
People rush to get away from a gunman during attacks in Jakarta, Jan. 14, 2016.
AFP

Updated at 6:49 p.m. ET in 2016-01-14

The so-called Islamic State group (IS) said it carried out Thursday’s suicide attack in the heart of Jakarta that left seven people dead and another 24 injured.

Five suspected militants were among those killed in the incident, which unfolded over the course of four hours during daylight at a busy location just 3 km (1.86 miles) from the Presidential Palace.

A statement from IS circulated on pro-IS social media said the attack was carried out by “four of the soldiers of the Caliphate … with light weaponry and explosive belts” as well as “several timed canisters whose detonation was coordinated.”

It “targeted a gathering of the citizens of the Crusader alliance (which is fighting the Islamic State),” the statement added, according to a translation by the U.S.-based SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors online communications among Islamic militants.

One of the two civilians killed was Canadian, and four other foreigners were among the injured: a German, an Austrian, an Algerian and a Dutch national. An Indonesian civilian was also killed.

“The perpetrator network is linked with ISIS, which is based in Raqqa,” Jakarta Police Chief Tito Karnavian told a press conference at the Presidential Palace, using another acronym for IS and referring to its stronghold in a Syrian city.

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‘Very relaxed’

According to witness and police accounts, a man blew himself up in a Starbucks café adjacent to the Sarinah Department Store on Thamrin Street.

The attackers also took two hostages – a Dutch national and an Algerian – who later escaped but were shot and wounded, police spokesman Anton Charliyan said.

Gunmen stationed outside the café targeted panicked people who rushed out of the Starbucks.

A witness, Tri Heriyanto, said he heard two explosions in the Starbucks around 10:35 a.m. and, shortly thereafter, another blast that seemed to come from a police post at the intersection of Thamrin and Wahid Hasyim streets, 10 meters (32.8 feet) from the Starbucks.

“After the third explosion, people started swarming toward that police station, but then there were gunshots and you could see it was police who were being targeted,” said Tri, who works at a bank nearby.

Police officer Feri Siregar said he and his colleagues were shot at as they pulled up to the intersection on motorcycles after being called to the scene.

The gunmen wore black shirts and hats, and carried backpacks, he said.

“As far as I could see, there were two people,” Feri told BenarNews.

He could not see their faces nor could he hear them say anything.

“But they seemed very relaxed. I even saw one of the shooters reloading his gun before shooting at us again.”

Attackers also lobbed explosives at police. A video widely circulated online showed police trying to escape the onslaught by jumping over vegetation that bordered the street.

"I don’t have a weapon. I chose to save myself,” said Panjaitan, a police officer that BenarNews encountered in the yard of the Jaya Building across the street. His uniform was stained with mud.

‘We will not be defeated’

Police said three militants were killed by gunfire and two from bomb blasts. Of the 24 injured, six were police.

Apart from the five slain suspects, police arrested four other suspects, ITV News reported.

There were five explosions in all, Coordinating Minister for Politics, Legal and Security Affairs Luhut Pandjaitan said.

The attacks were over and Jakarta was “safe,” he told reporters late Thursday afternoon.

Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo visited the scene of the attack, after rushing back to Jakarta from an out-of-town trip.

“Our nation and our people should not be afraid; we will not be defeated by these acts of terror. I hope the public stays calm,” Jokowi told journalists.

“We all are grieving for the fallen victims of this incident, but we also condemn the act that has disturbed the security and peace and spread terror among our people.”

IS had sent out a cryptic warning before multiple blasts struck downtown Jakarta, National Police spokesman Anton Charliyan said, according to Agence France-Presse.

The attacks marked the first time that the Middle East-based extremist group has been linked to a terrorist strike in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation.

For months, regional security analysts and Indonesian officials had warned that IS combat veterans from Southeast Asia might attempt terror attacks after returning to their home countries from the Mid-East war zone.

Police have “identified 240 people who have returned home out of at least 800 Indonesians who have traveled to the Middle East to join IS,” Anton said last month, according to the Associated Press.

In recent weeks, Indonesian authorities had deployed a massive security presence and were on high alert for possible militant attacks targeting Christmas and New Year’s Day festivities.

Acting on intelligence reports provided to Indonesia by the United States and Australia, Densus 88, the Indonesian police’s counter-terrorist wing arrested nine men, including some with alleged IS links, who were suspected of being involved in year-end terror plots.

On Dec. 22, Indonesian police revealed that IS could have many as 1,000 sympathizers in the country.

In total last year, police foiled nine terror plots and arrested 74 people suspected of being linked to terrorist activities, National Police Chief Gen. Badrodin Haiti said in late December.

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