Updated at 2:34 p.m. ET on 2019-11-13
A 24-year-old student blew himself up Wednesday in a suspected “lone-wolf” suicide bombing that injured at least six other people outside a police station in Medan, Indonesia’s fourth largest city, authorities said.
The suspect, identified as Rabbial Muslim Nasution, an Indonesian citizen, set off an explosive belt in the parking lot at the headquarters of the Medan city police after escaping a routine security check at the entrance, national police spokesman Dedi Prasetyo said.
“The perpetrator acted as a lone wolf,” Dedi told reporters, adding that police were investigating any link to a terrorist network.
Six people, including four police officers, were slightly injured in the explosion, he said.
“I was queuing when I heard a loud explosion and saw smoke coming from the scene," a woman named Lila, who was at the police station, told Metro TV, an Indonesian channel. “I shouted, ‘Bomb! Bomb! Get out!’”
The suspect was a university student who was born in Medan, the capital of North Sumatra province, according to information released by police. But his neighbors told local news outlets that Rabbial was a high-school dropout.
The bombing took place a month after two suspected Islamic State-linked militants stabbed and wounded then-Security Minister Wiranto and two other people with a knife as he was visiting Banten province.
Police have arrested at least 40 people across the country since the Oct. 10 attack on Wiranto, including those allegedly planning attacks on police targets and houses of worship on Java island.
Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority country, has been hit by a string of terrorist attacks in the past two decades, with more recent strikes being blamed on Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD), a local militant network affiliated with Islamic State.
Last year, two families blew themselves up at three churches and a police station in coordinated suicide attacks in the East Java city of Surabaya. Those bombings, which authorities tied to JAD, killed 24 people, including children as young as 9 who joined their parents in the attacks.
In a separate development, police spokesman Dedi said that a suspected JAD militant believed to have bomb-making skills was arrested in Bekasi, a town on the outskirts of Jakarta, on Tuesday.
The man, identified as Patria, received military training in the southern Philippines in 1999 and fought in Afghanistan, before travelling to Syria in 2012 and established links with the Free Syrian Army (FSA), a group seeking the overthrow of President Bashar al-Assad, Dedi said.
The suspected bomber in Medan might have been an Islamic State sympathizer, Stanislaus Riyanta, a security analyst at the University of Indonesia, told BenarNews.
“The police are seen as ‘taghut’ (tyrants) by ISIS,” Stanislaus said, using another name for the Islamic State. “This could be the motive for the act of terrorism.”
He also said that the attack could have been intended to avenge the death of Islamic State leader Abu Bakar al-Baghdadi, who was killed when he detonated a suicide vest during a raid by U.S. Special Forces in northwestern Syria late last month.
“Baghdadi's death may have triggered ISIS sympathizers to take action in retaliation. This has been predicted,” he said.
But he said it appeared that that the bomb was of poor quality as it did not cause mass casualties.
But Rakyan Adibrata, a terrorism researcher at the International Association for Counter-Terrorism and Security Professionals (IACSP), said the attack was unlikely to have been motivated by al-Baghdadi’s death.
“It makes more sense that it was carried out to avenge the arrest of fellow militants since last month,” he told BenarNews.
Rakyan said the bomber might have been radicalized by JAD.
“The modus operandi is the same: a lone attacker targeting the police. Attacks carried out by one person are not necessarily lone-wolf attacks, unless they are self-radicalized, and plan, assemble the bomb and carry out the attack on their own,” he said.
Presidential spokesman Fadjroel Rachman condemned the attack, saying that terrorism would not be tolerated.
“The government will not allow acts of terrorism to disrupt security, peace and social and economic activity of the people,” he said in a statement.
He said President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo had ordered authorities to tackle the threat of terrorism by working together with the public.
The speaker of the national parliament, Puan Maharani, urged communities to remain vigilant.
“We must work together to prevent such an attack from happening again,” she told reporters.
“[Previous attacks had] happened in places we thought were safe,” she said. “All strains of society must anticipate them.”