Think-Tank: Indonesia Needs to Watch Out for Women Playing Larger Role in Terrorism

BenarNews staff
190429-ID-ipac-620.jpg Indonesian police inspect the site of a bomb attack outside a church in Surabaya, East Java, Indonesia, May 13, 2018.

Indonesian police and military members should guard against women taking a more active role in potential terrorist attacks by Muslim extremists – as seen in Surabaya in 2018 and in Sri Lanka earlier this month – a Jakarta-based think tank said in a report published Monday.

Suicide bombings carried out in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday underscore that Indonesia has not had to not face coordinated attacks that kill hundreds of people, the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC) said in opening its report.

“Indonesia has been lucky thus far that its terrorists generally have had too little experience to think big. With a little imagination and better leadership, these pro-ISIS cells could do far greater damage,” IPAC said, using another acronym for the Islamic State (IS).

The report, “The Ongoing Problem of Pro-ISIS Cells in Indonesia,” described Indonesia as fortunate to have had “such low-caliber terrorists and high-caliber counter-terrorism police.”

Local militant groups, like the one blamed for the April 21 attacks in Sri Lanka, have not been discouraged by IS defeats in the Middle East, but have been emboldened to wage war at home, IPAC reported.

Indonesian officials, meanwhile, have weakened efforts by militant groups through a wave of arrests since the May 2018 suicide bombings of churches and a police station in Surabaya, the report said. Those attacks in the capital of East Java province involved whole families – men, their wives and children in launching suicide bomb attacks. Twelve civilians were killed.

Many of the arrests since then targeted the nation’s largest pro-IS coalition, Jamaah Ansharul Daulah (JAD), “damaging the structure but leaving behind several territorial units that remain determined to act on their own,” IPAC said.

“Many of these ad-hoc cells in Indonesia have been hampered by geographic dispersal of members, if they were formed online, and by a general absence of any vetting, training or indoctrination procedures, let alone security precautions.”

‘A broader phenomenon’

The report also pointed to a potential link between Surabaya and a more recent incident in Sibolga involving Indonesian female suicide bombers, and a Sri Lankan woman who blew herself up shortly after the Easter Sunday attacks.

The Sri Lankan woman, who was the wife of one of the suicide bombers, killed herself, her children and police officers who entered her family’s home shortly after the April 21 attacks.

Islamic State claimed responsibility for the Sri Lankan attacks, which were carried out by members of a local pro-IS Muslim extremist group, according to news reports. The bombings killed about 250 people at churches and hotels in three cities in the island-nation.

“Surabaya now seems to have been an inspiration for Sibolga, and the involvement of the Sri Lankan woman suggests this could now be a broader phenomenon,” the report states.

In March, the wife of a suspected Indonesian militant detonated a bomb, killing herself and her child in Sibolga city in North Sumatra province after police surrounded her house a day after arresting her husband.

Following the attacks in Sri Lanka, a spokesman said Indonesian police were on alert and tracking potential terrorists throughout the country.

“We have been mapping and profiling sleeper cells in all parts of Indonesia by continuously monitoring the movements of these groups,” spokesman Dedi Prasetyo told BenarNews.


The IPAC report offered a series of recommendations, with two focusing specifically on women.

The first calls for better programs for pro-IS women detainees. It said 15 women, including some involved in violent acts, were in custody.

“Understanding the backgrounds and motivations of these women is essential for preparing a more targeted rehabilitation program, and they themselves may have ideas about prevention strategies,” the report stated.

The report also called for more women to be recruited and trained as members of the counter-terrorist unit Densus 88, including in its intelligence unit.

“The percentage of women in the police more generally remains woefully low, just over 8 percent.”

IPAC pointed out that the Sri Lankan attacks showed that IS had identified Christians and Jews as enemies and had encouraged attacks against them.

What happened in Sri Lanka could increase the lure of such attacks by IS supporters in Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation.

“The existence of small cells also means that sooner or later, one of them is likely to think of copying the kind of attack that has taken place elsewhere but that to date has not been tried in Indonesia: a truck attack; a random stabbing of a foreigner; a mall shooting. It is easy to dismiss the competence of Indonesian terrorists, but as long as they continue to subscribe to ISIS ideology, they remain a serious threat,” the report concluded.


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