Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo ordered police Friday to tighten security for senior officials after his top security minister was wounded in a brazen knife attack by Islamic State-linked suspects, amid concerns the militant group was trying to take advantage of post-election unrest.
Minister Wiranto, a former chief of Indonesia’s armed forces, was stepping out of a car during a working visit west of Jakarta when a couple identified as members of Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD), a local militant network with IS links, lunged at him and others with knives, police said.
The minister was stabbed twice in the stomach during the official visit to Pandeglang, a town in Banten province on Java island, on Thursday. The 72-year-old former general was recuperating after a three-hour surgery at an army hospital in the Indonesian capital.
“Yesterday, I immediately ordered the national police chief to ensure that officials be given additional security,” Jokowi told reporters after visiting Wiranto a second time at the hospital.
“Although there are already security precautions, they should be improved,” Jokowi said without elaborating.
Jokowi described Wiranto’s condition as “stable, improving” and said the minister was “able to communicate.”
The president said government leaders would continue to be close to ordinary citizens despite heightened security measures, adding that they could still take “selfies” with him.
Jokowi, 58, who was re-elected in April, is known for posing for selfies while visiting mosques.
“No change in the pattern of security, but the vigilance among presidential guards will be enhanced,” Jokowi said.
Television footage showed the attacker stabbing Wiranto on his left side while the minister shook hands with residents. Several children who were nearby saw him stumble to the ground.
Aides shoved Wiranto back into the car as several men pinned down the suspect and tied his hands behind his back.
According to standard security procedure in Indonesia, ministers are each assigned four bodyguards, including two police officers armed with 9-mm pistols.
It was not immediately clear how many bodyguards were with Wiranto during the attack.
Citing police information, local reports said the suspects used two kunai knives – spear-shaped weapons with blades on both sides – in the first such attack against a cabinet minister in Indonesia.
Wiranto, the coordinating minister for political, legal and security affairs, suffered wounds in his small intestine and doctors decided to perform an operation, Agus Zaini, a member of the minister’s staff, told reporters Friday.
“Wiranto’s post-surgery condition is good, even though he still has to undergo treatment,” Agus said.
Three other people – a local police chief, a local ulema or Muslim scholar named Fuad, and one of Wiranto’s aides – also suffered knife wounds in Thursday's attack, but authorities said their injuries were not life-threatening.
‘Wage war at home’
Police said the couple who launched the attack, Syahrial Alamsyah (alias Abu Rara) and Fitri, believed to be Syahrial’s wife, were loosely linked to JAD and had been monitored by authorities for months.
IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in an audio message released last month, ordered his followers to redouble their efforts to further the militant group’s cause after it lost control over its self-proclaimed caliphate in parts of Syria and Iraq earlier this year.
Sidney Jones, director of the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict and an expert of Islamic militancy in Indonesia, said the attack on Wiranto showed that pro-IS groups “remain committed to acts of jihad in Indonesia.”
“They believe that by doing so they are following the orders of al-Baghdadi,” Jones told BenarNews. “All that matters is, [as] al-Baghdadi said, if you can’t join us, then wage war at home.”
The attack may have been carried out in retaliation for the arrest of local JAD head Fazri Pahlawan (alias Abu Zee Ghuroba) last month, Brig. Gen. Dedi Prasetyo, the national police spokesman, said Friday.
Indonesian security officials admitted Thursday that Syahrial and Fitri had been under surveillance for three months after they were identified in a police report about the arrest of nine JAD suspects, including Abu Ghurobah, in Bekasi, a town on the outskirts of Jakarta.
Jones said attacks such as the one on Wiranto were difficult to prevent and would involve little planning by militant suspects.
“You can just decide on the spur of the moment to act,” she said. “We don't know how long it was planned and I don’t think we can necessarily fault the security forces for not being able to prevent it.”
Taking advantage of unrest
Stanislaus Riyanto, a security analyst at the University of Indonesia, said pro-IS militants might take advantage of post-election unrest and anti-government student protests nationwide to create instability.
“This should not be underestimated. They may carry out small-scale attacks, but the impact can be significant, and they are hard to detect,” he told BenarNews.
Jones agreed that extremist groups had paid greater attention to domestic politics in recent years.
“I think that we do need to be concerned about the presidential swearing-in. I think the security forces need to be on extra high alert,” she said, referring to Jokowi’s oath-taking for a second term on Oct. 20.
The fact that a woman also carried out Thursday’s stabbing spree is another indication of growing involvement of female militants in attacks, not just in Indonesia but also in other countries, Jones said.
“I think that women are playing a more active role and they are encouraging each other via social media to take on these, in their view, heroic actions,” she said.