Updated at 9:50 p.m. ET on 2017-12-29
Indonesia is doubling the size of its counterterrorism force ahead of major international events taking place in the country in 2018, National Police Chief Tito Karnavian said Friday.
The force will be headed by a two-star police general instead of one-star general, as well, Tito said in a yearender news conference in Jakarta.
“I have also asked for the force numbers to be doubled. We’re adding about 600 personnel, so that the total will become 1,300,” he said.
The former head of the elite police unit said the change was due to an assessment of the threat level next year when Indonesia hosts two major international events.
The two events are the Asian Games, which will take place in Jakarta, the Sumatran city of Palembang and various parts of West Java, with 1,500 people from 45 nations participating; and annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank in Bali, with 189 nations taking part.
The participation of North Korea and Myanmar in the Asian games in August and September, and of Israel and the United States in the IMF and WB meetings in October, make both of the events potential targets for radical groups and terrorists, Tito said.
Police casualties increase
Densus 88 is part of Indonesia’s police force, which in 2017 apprehended 172 suspected terrorists, of whom 16 were shot dead during arrest attempts, officials said.
The number of suspects apprehended had increased from 163 in 2016 and 73 in 2015.
Of the suspects arrested in 2017, 76 are now on trial and 10 have been convicted.
“The number of arrests is more due to the proactive steps undertaken by the police, more specifically Densus 88, who are working harder to detect, monitor and take action against terror networks,” Tito said.
He said the number of police killed in terror acts had increased during the last three years.
Four police were killed and 14 wounded on the job in 2017, Tito said. The previous year, the elite force suffered only one fatality, but 11 were wounded. One officer was killed and two injured in 2015.
“I have instructed that there be more undercover work, early prevention and action before incidents occur. For this we need stronger detection capacity,” he said.
Race to train
The higher rank of the Densus 88 commander suggests an expansion of tasks and a larger budget for the force, according to counterterrorism expert Rakyan Adibrata.
“But keep in mind, training a 100-percent professional and prepared counter-terrorism officer is very time-consuming, whereas training a terrorist is much faster,” he told BenarNews. “Densus will be racing against time.”
“From the point of view of resources, ISIS is not like Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), which aimed for a lot of casualties,” Rakyan said, using another acronym for the so-called Islamic State group (IS), and comparing it with the al-Qaeda affiliate that killed 202 people in the 2002 nightclub bombings in Bali.
“For them it’s enough to mount attacks with a simple kitchen knife,” he said of IS.
Rakyan agreed with the police chief’s analysis that the international events in Indonesia in 2018 could be targetted by terrorists.
“There are high expectations from perpetrators who want to use terrorism as a tool to convey political messages,” he said.
According to statistics from Indonesia’s foreign ministry, 227 Indonesians were arrested abroad in 2017, including in Turkey, Malaysia, Syria and South Korea.
The highest number of arrests took place in Turkey with 195 people, followed by Syria with 28.
The ministry added that 213 Indonesians, including 79 women and 78 children, were deported from Turkey between Jan. 1 and Oct. 20 this year. That number was three times greater than the 60 deportees from Turkey in 2016.
Foreign Ministry official Lalu Muhammad Iqbal said that most of the Indonesians were deported due to immigration violations, such as using an incorrect visa, overstaying a visa or being unable to produce a passport.
“Nevertheless, Turkish authorities indicated their suspicion that these individuals were in Turkey in order to cross into Syria and join ISIS, or other groups of that nature, such as Jabhat An-Nusra, in Syria,” he said.
An earlier version of this story gave incorrect figures for the number of police killed and wounded in 2017.