Thursday 24 Jan 2019 | 15:33 | SYDNEY
Thursday 24 Jan 2019 | 15:33 | SYDNEY

This week in Jakarta: Lessons from the attacks



22 January 2016 08:54

One week after deadly attacks that left eight people dead and dozens more injured, life seems to have returned to normal in Jakarta. Aside from the presence of heavily armed police on the streets of central Jakarta, and enhanced security measures at offices and shopping malls in the area of the attack, there are almost no signs of the violence that stopped the city last Thursday.

Jakarta residents responded to the attacks with a mixture of defiance and dark humour. Hashtag trends on social media progressed from the sober #PrayForJakarta to the bolder message of #KamiTidakTakut ('we are not afraid') and on to the ridiculous #KamiNaksir ('we have a crush') and #PolisiGanteng ('handsome policeman'), the latter two playfully dedicated to the best-looking cop on the scene. Online businesses were quick to follow, letting users know where to buy the trendy bag and shoes sported by the attractive officer. Later in the week, a more morbid advertisement appeared online selling  copies of the T-shirt worn by one of the attackers, accompanied by a picture of the man's dead body. 

Jakartans took pride in the presence of street food vendors on the scene, who continued to sell snacks to law enforcers and the crowds of onlookers as events unfolded. The vendors were branded as everyday heroes on social media, though news reports say they stayed more out of fear of losing their push-carts and a day's earnings rather than any attitude of defiance against terrorists. Even big businesses like Starbucks, which was a target of the attacks, closed its 50 or so outlets across the capital for only a few hours before reopening in many locations. Meanwhile, the Starbucks employee who narrowly escaped death in the attack is reported to still be suffering from trauma.

Jakarta's resilient attitude is commendable. But it should not overshadow some of the more serious lessons of last Thursday's attacks.

One thing that seems to have been quickly forgotten in the bravado of the aftermath is the initial panic that the attacks caused. Unsubstantiated reports of simultaneous attacks occurring across Jakarta were broadcast by TV and internet news portals, causing unnecessary panic in unaffected areas of the city. The reports were lapped up by both local and international media before being fact-checked and retracted, exposing the limits of critical and reliable reporting on a live news event.

Public crowding in the shoot-out zone between attackers and police is another cause for concern. Images from the day show police hunched behind armoured vehicles while members of the public keep a curious eye from the sidelines, even stopping to take selfies at the scene. These images have been proudly circulated by social media users of the #KamiTidakTakut persuasion, but should also raise concerns for public safety. The same can be said for images of street food vendors hawking snacks to law enforcers on the scene — it's fearless and unmistakably Jakartan, but not exactly safe for either the law enforcers or the vendors.

One of the greatest lessons from last week's incident is that after about seven years of a war on terror that was mainly fought between terrorists and police, the public has again become a target in Jakarta. Not only that, but as the first incident of ISIS-related violence in Southeast Asia, the Jakarta attacks also signal that Indonesia and the region are now facing a yet unknown threat with a different set of tactics to the groups that came before it.

Interestingly, al Qaeda-affiliated groups in Indonesia are reported to have condemned last week's Jakarta attacks on the basis that the victims were mainly ordinary Muslims. This indicates a shift in approach by ISIS loyalists, and a greater danger to the general public.

Coordination of the Jakarta attacks has been attributed to Bahrun Naim, a recruiter for ISIS in Southeast Asia now based in Syria. One of last week's attackers is believed to have received a bank transfer from Naim to fund the violence. The attackers were not well armed, but they were armed nonetheless, raising questions about the source of their weapons. And as badly executed as the attacks were, the attackers still managed to evade police attention until the day of the strike.

Social media, while widely used to denounce terrorism in Indonesia, is also to said to provide a platform for the dissemination of radical ideology. Bahrun Naim is reported to be a former computer technician who runs a blog encouraging Indonesians to join ISIS and instructing potential recruits on how to build bombs and plan attacks.

As restrictions grow tighter on Indonesians attempting to reach Syria in order to join ISIS, analysts warn that more attacks may be planned on the domestic front. Meanwhile, President Jokowi has pledged to address a loophole in counter-terrorism laws that currently allows fighters to return home without facing legal consequences for their actions overseas.

On the home front, 12 suspected terrorists were arrested across Indonesia in the wake of the attacks, while one was shot dead in Poso, an extremist battleground in central Sulawesi. A 'shoot on sight' policy for terrorist suspects, as well as allegations of torture perpetrated by law enforcers, have perpetuated ongoing violence between terrorists and police. Questions should be raised about the efficacy of this hard approach against terrorism and its implications for the protection of human rights in Indonesia. As for a soft approach, the impact of deradicalisation efforts will come under scrutiny this year as hundreds of convicted terrorists are due for release in Indonesia after completing their prison sentences.

Photo by Flickr user Tommy Wahyu Utomo.

You may also be interested in...