Islamic State militants attack Jakarta

Jakarta, January 14

Indonesia blamed Islamic State for an attack by suicide bombers and gunmen in the heart of Jakarta today that brought the radical group’s violence to the world’s most populous Muslim country for the first time.

Just seven people were killed despite multiple blasts and a gunfight, and five of them were the attackers themselves, but the brazenness of their siege suggested a new brand of militancy in a country where low-level strikes on police are common.

It took security forces about three hours to end the attack near a Starbucks cafe and Sarinah’s, Jakarta’s oldest department store, after a team of at least seven militants traded gunfire with police and blew themselves up.

An Indonesian and a Canadian were killed in the attack and 20 people, including a Dutchman who works for the United Nations Environment Programme, were wounded. Two of the militants were taken alive, police said.

“Islamic State fighters carried out an armed attack this morning targeting foreign nationals and the security forces charged with protecting them in the Indonesian capital,” Aamaaq news agency, which is allied to the group, said on its Telegram channel.

Jakarta’s police chief told reporters: “ISIS is behind this attack definitely,” using a common acronym for Islamic State, and he named an Indonesian militant called Bahrun Naim as the man responsible for plotting it. Police believe Naim is in the Syrian city of Raqqa.

The drama played out on the streets and on television screens, with at least six explosions and a gunfight in a movie theatre. But the low death toll pointed to the involvement of local militants whose weapons were rudimentary, experts said.

Jakarta police chief Tito Karnavian said one man entered the Starbucks cafe and blew himself up, wounding several inside. As people poured out of the cafe, two waiting gunmen opened fire on them. At the same time, two militants attacked a police traffic post nearby, using what he described as hand grenade-like bombs.

Police responded in force within minutes. Black armoured cars screeched to a halt in front of the Starbucks and sniper teams were deployed around the neighbourhood as helicopters buzzed overhead.

Indonesia has seen attacks by Islamist militants before, but a coordinated assault by a team of suicide bombers and gunmen is unprecedented and has echoes of the sieges seen in Mumbai seven years ago and in Paris last November.

The last major militant attacks in Jakarta were in July 2009, with bombs at the JW Marriott and Ritz Carlton hotels.

The country had been on edge for weeks over the threat posed by Islamist militants.

Counter-terrorism police had rounded up about 20 people with suspected links to Islamic State, whose battle lines in Syria and Iraq have included nationals from several Asian countries.

Harits Abu Ulya, a expert on militancy who knows Bahrun Naim, the militant named by Indonesian authorities, said he expected more attacks.

“This is an indication that he has been learning from the Paris attacks and he has studied the strategy,” he said. “I still have doubts about the capability of the local militants to carry out attacks on a bigger scale. But it is a possibility.”