Suicide bombings carried out by entire families in Indonesia this week may be the first of their kind in the world and represent both the power of Islamic State indoctrination and the current weakness of the organization, analysts said.
Four children aged 9 to 18 died along with their parents in triple suicide bombings at churches in Indonesia’s second city of Surabaya on Sunday.
That night, an apparently accidental bomb blast killed a couple and one of their four children at their home in a nearby district. On Monday, a family of five detonated bombs at a Surabaya police station, killing all but an eight-year-old daughter.
“This may be the first time in the world, parents took their children to blow themselves up. These kinds of attacks are unprecedented,” Sidney Jones, director of the Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC), told BenarNews.
Even at the height of Jemaah Islamiyah, the Southeast Asian terror network that carried out the 2002 Bali bombings, “families were committed to the cause, but only adult male would ever be considered a warrior,” she said.
Now, Islamic State (IS) has turned the concept of jihad into a “family affair,” with roles and a sense of mission for everyone.
She noted that jailed Indonesian militant Syaiful Anam (alias Brekele) allowed his 12-year-old son Hatf to go to Syria with relatives in August 2016. Hatf died in combat two months short of his 13th birthday.
Thayyep Malik, a researcher from the Prasasti Perdamaian Foundation agreed, that the bombings suggest violent jihad is no longer reserved for men but is now “for women and children too.”
“As for parents capable of taking their children to carry out a bombing, it’s about ideology, the ideology of death. Although it’s not easy for them, certainly, they are still human.”
Stanislaus Riyanta, an intelligence and terrorism expert from University of Indonesia, said the attacks also show that IS indoctrination “is so strong that if that with the slightest provocation ”they are ready to retaliate and even ready to die.”
“But children are victims here. They don’t understand what’s going on, they are just indoctrinated with the ideology of their parents. This is very dangerous,” he said.
Sofyan Tsauri, a onetime police officer who became a weapons supplier for Bali bomber Dulmatin and served time in prison, said parents who sacrifice their children are enthralled with messianic end-of-times ideology.
They “drift into illusion, hallucinating” that the world is just a tempting illusion, he said.
“They often say, ‘let’s go to heaven, together, there is no pain,’” he said.
But the use of women and children has a “hidden message” of provoking men into action, he added.
“The message is that, ‘we have sacrificed ourselves, where are you? Where are the warriors?’” Making male jihadists “ashamed” of their inactivity is “the basic motivation,” he said.
Nava Nuraniyah, an IPAC analyst, said the use of women and children had tactical advantages for Islamic State while at the same time pointing to its weakness.
Due to gender bias, police are less likely to suspect women of criminal or terrorist activity. For example, security checks for women entering prisons are far less rigorous, she said.
Meanwhile, the family bombings have attracted new attention to a network that failed to hold onto its so-called caliphate in Iraq and Syria.
“The media pays much more attention if they do something different. A whole family carrying out an act of terror is a first for Indonesia. So if they succeed, it becomes a sensation. That’s what they look for,” she said, referring to attack planners.
“Perhaps because the position of the organization is weak, they choose women to do it,” she added.