Indonesian police arrested five suspected Islamic State-linked militants who allegedly were planning an attack on a large crowd later this month, and killed another in separate weekend raids on hideouts in Central and West Java, a spokesman said Monday.
The suspects were plotting suicide attacks that included targeting mass gatherings as Indonesians await official results of the April 17 presidential and legislative elections that are due out on May 22, according to national police spokesman Dedi Prasetyo.
“They are linked to the JAD (Jamaah Anshaarut Tauhid) group founded by Aman Abdurrahman,” Dedi said. “During the raids, we found bomb-making materials which were being prepared.”
Aman, a militant ideologue who pledged allegiance to Islamic State (IS) leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, was sentenced to death by a Jakarta court last year for his role in a series of terror attacks in Indonesia in recent years.
“They will take advantage of any chaos resulting from the mass mobilization of people by carrying out suicide attacks,” Dedi said, adding that the suspects caught in the weekend raids were also plotting to attack a police station in Bekasi’s Jati Asih area.
Police raided houses in Bekasi, a West Java city east of Jakarta, and Tegal regency in Central Java on Saturday and Sunday, arresting five people. One of the suspects was identified as Solikin (alias Abu Faisa), 34. Police released only the initials of the four others.
Another suspect, identified as T.P., threw a home-made bomb at the police, forcing officers to shoot and kill him, Dedi said.
Solikin, was the leader and the other suspects are members of a JAD branch in Lampung on Sumatra island and had been monitored since 2014, according to Dedi. He said they were radicalized through social media and learned bomb-making skills from other JAD members.
In 2015, Solikin took part in a JAD meeting in East Java when plans to carry out an attack on Jakarta’s central business district were discussed, Dedi said. A bomb and gun attack in Jakarta in January 2016 killed four bystanders and four militants.
Targeting election-related protests
Dedi said the group was believed to be planning a suicide attack in Jakarta when supporters of opposition candidate Prabowo Subianto are expected to hold a rally to protest election results later this month. Preliminary counts showed incumbent President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo with a lead of about 10 percentage points over Prabowo, the man he defeated in 2014 for the nation’s top office.
“This group wanted to use the election momentum, particularly in Jakarta, and planned to launch attacks during protest rallies that lead to anarchic actions,” Dedi said, according to the South China Morning Post. “They were planning suicide bombings and other bomb attacks to trigger other terrorist groups to do the same.”
Prabowo, whose supporters include hardline Islamic groups, has claimed that the election was rigged. Muhammad Rizieq Shihab, a hardline cleric who has thrown his support behind Prabowo, has demanded that Jokowi be disqualified.
Meanwhile, Amien Rais, a former national assembly speaker and a figure who played a key role in the downfall of President Suharto in 1998, threatened to mobilize “people power” in response to alleged electoral fraud. Amien is the chief patron of the National Mandate Party, a member of the coalition that backs Prabowo.
On Monday, Security Affairs Minister Wiranto said forces would not hesitate to take firm action against “anyone who breaks the law with the aim to delegitimize election organizers.”
“For those who continue with efforts to sow disunity, delegitimize government institutions, spread slander and hate speech, please stop your activities,” Wiranto told reporters.
“There’s a figure who lives overseas who instigates people every day. That cannot be justified,” Wiranto said, in an apparent reference to Rizieq, who is on self-imposed exile in Saudi Arabia to escape a police attempt to question him in a pornography case.
Wiranto warned that the government had the power to take down social media accounts with provocative content.
“If we need to shut them down, we will do it. It’s justified for national security,” he said.
Doubts from analyst
Dedi said police were prepared for potential attacks.
“Therefore, the anti-terror unit Densus 88 continues to keep tabs on the movement of these groups. We are also keeping an eye on sleeper cells that may carry out acts of terrorism,” he said.
Zaki Mubarak, a political analyst, at Syarif Hidayatullah State Jakarta Islamic University, cast doubt on police claims that JAD was planning an attack.
“If they had wanted to, they could have carried out a suicide bombing during anti-Ahok rallies. But it did not happen,” he said.
Zaki was referring to protests by conservative Muslims against then-Jakarta Gov. Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama, a member of the Chinese Christian minority, in late 2016 and early 2017. They were demanding his prosecution over remarks referring to the Quran that were deemed as offensive to Islam. Zaki cautioned against using the pretext of fighting terrorism to muzzle criticism over alleged electoral fraud.
“People rejecting election results is another matter. It is the job of the police to provide security so that any demonstration can take place peacefully,” he said.