Indonesia’s national police force is on its highest level of alert after the arrests of nine people who were plotting year-end terror attacks, senior officials said Monday.
The nine suspects included some with alleged ties to the Islamic State (IS) extremist group. They were conspiring to launch attacks on government, police and counterterrorism officials, as well as places of worship and public gathering spots, police said.
“They planned to take action this December, to stage a ‘big concert’ in Indonesia to make international news,” Anton Charliyan, the spokesman for national police, told a news conference in Jakarta.
Five of the suspects had received permission from an IS leader based in Syria to carry out the attacks in Indonesia, police said.
“They received transfers of funds … they have a connection with Syria,” Reuters quoted Anton as saying.
Police picked up the suspects in a series of operations across Java on Friday and Saturday.
Following the arrests, “Police are confirming a level-one alert. We don’t want to be caught unaware,” Anton said.
“Obviously, they are targeting government officials, Densus 88 officials, BNPT officials, and places of worship,” he said. Densus 88 is the police force’s elite counterterrorist wing and BNPT is the Indonesian acronym for the National Counterterrorism Agency.
But Anton did not give specific details about the suspects’ alleged targets. According to other reports, Jakarta Metropolitan Police Headquarters was among the targets of the disrupted plot.
On Sunday, Agence France-Presse reported that the suspects were connected to a plot to carry out a suicide bombing in Jakarta during New Year festivities. Media reports from Dec. 20 also quoted police officials as saying that the suspects also planned to attack members of Indonesia’s small Shiite minority.
Nine swept up
Of the nine suspects captured by Densus 88, two were apprehended in Cilacap, Central Java at midday on Friday.
Information obtained through those arrests led to the arrests of two other suspects in Tasikmalaya, West Java, later on Friday.
On Saturday, Densus 88 took three others into custody Mojokerto, East Java, along with an eighth suspect in Gresik, East Java, and a ninth one in Sukoharjo, Central Java.
Police on Monday identified the suspects by their initials but not their full names.
The nine detainees are ex-members of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), al-Qaeda’s Southeast Asian affiliate, National Police Chief Badrodin Haiti told a separate news conference at another location in Jakarta on Monday. JI carried out the 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202 people.
“They are former Jemaah Islamiyah and have links to the IS group. Next week, we will process or release them,” BeritaSatu, an Indonesian news outlet, quoted Badrodin as saying.
While making the arrests, Densus 88 seized bomb-making materials and weapons. These included five kilos of urea fertilizer, 18 boxes of paraffin, three kilos of nails, four machetes, four boxes of carbon dioxide cartridges, a nine-volt battery, a notebook with information on making explosives, and a map of Jakarta, according to police.
“Based on our investigation, some of that evidence was to be assembled into explosive materials,” Anton said.
During the past year, Indonesian officials had warned that IS posed a direct threat to the country through its aggressive online recruitment of Muslim youths from Southeast Asia and via Islamic boarding schools.
One of the nine suspects, Asep Urip, taught at a pesantren – one of those boarding schools, according to the Associated Press. Asep had allegedly received funds from Indonesian militants who were signing up with IS in Syria, AP quoted Anton as saying.
Indonesia banned IS in August 2014, and officials have since voiced fears that Indonesian IS recruits returning from combat tours in Syria or Iraq could plot terror attacks on home soil.
According to AP, Anton said that police had “identified 240 people who have returned home out of at least 800 Indonesians who have traveled to the Middle East to join IS.”
According to news reports, intelligence reports passed on to Indonesian authorities, including by American and Australian federal law enforcement agencies, led to the arrests of the nine suspects in Indonesia.
On Monday, the topic of the arrests came up during bilateral meetings held simultaneously in Jakarta and Sydney. Australian and Indonesian officials agreed to increase the sharing of intelligence in their counter-terrorist efforts, the two counties announced.
“Australia is always prepared to play its part and in this instance it would appear that the Indonesian police have been very successful in thwarting an attempted terrorist activity, but the details are still being made known to us,” Australian Minister of Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop said during a joint news conference in Sydney with her Indonesian counterpart, Retno Marsudi.
“Overall Australia and Indonesia are co-operating extremely closely on the whole issue of countering terrorism and we're playing our part globally, we're certainly playing our part regionally and bilaterally we're working very closely together,” Bishop said, according to an official transcript.
In the wake of the arrests, Jakarta Police moved to tighten security in the capital, as Indonesia’s Christian minority prepared to celebrate Christmas in a few days.
"We have put 28,000 personnel on alert to secure Christmas and New Year celebrations,” said Muhammad Iqbal, the spokesman for Jakarta Metropolitan Police.
Elsewhere, Jakarta Metropolitan Police took part in a meeting at city hall with Jakarta Gov. Basuki Tjahaja Purnama and police chiefs from the greater Jakarta area to coordinate security around year-end festivities.
Last week, Indonesian authorities announced that they would deploy 150,554 personnel from police, military, and related agencies to safeguard this year’s end-of-year holiday season nationwide.
The deployments take place every year and are dubbed Operation Candle.