Indonesia police arrest 11 in suspected terror plot
By SARA SCHONHARDT
The New York Times | October 29,2012
JAKARTA, Indonesia — The Indonesian counterterrorism police conducted a series of raids over the weekend leading to the arrests of 11 people accused of planning terrorist attacks on several high-profile targets, including the U.S. Embassy here.
A police spokesman said those arrested were part of a relatively new group, the Sunni Movement for Indonesian Society, also known as Hasmi, which was plotting to attack the embassy in Jakarta; a U.S. Consulate in Surabaya, East Java; a plaza in front of the Australian Embassy in Jakarta; and a Jakarta building that houses the Indonesian headquarters of the U.S. mining giant Freeport-McMoRan.
The spokesman, Boy Rafli Amar, said that the captives included Abu Hanifa, who is suspected of being the group’s leader, but that more suspects might be at large. The police were continuing their investigation, but Rafli said that the plot appeared to have been in its early stages.
“They were still preparing,” he said. “They were still in the planning process.”
The raids, which took place in four cities across the main island of Java, uncovered a completed bomb, explosive materials and bomb-making manuals. Rafli said he believed the group was also learning to build bombs off the Internet. He said the police had been monitoring the group since the beginning of the year but had moved to make arrests only once they were certain the suspects were working to build bombs.
The threat posed by the group is unclear, he added, calling it part of a “new generation” of terrorist organizations that has splintered off from al-Qaida’s Southeast Asian affiliate, Jemaah Islamiyah. “We’re still trying to find the motive. They are not part of JI, but it could be they have some spirit of JI,” he said. Jemaah Islamiyah backs the establishment of an Islamic state in the region.
Indonesia experienced a series of high-profile terrorist attacks starting with the October 2002 bombing on the resort island of Bali that killed 202. Most were linked to Jemaah Islamiyah and aimed at Western targets, including hotels and embassies. But since blasts rocked two luxury hotels in Jakarta in 2009, killing seven people, terrorist attacks have been small in scale and unsophisticated.
The country is struggling to clamp down on the rise of new homegrown groups that have splintered off from larger, global terrorist movements. Recent terrorist plots have predominantly targeted the National Police and state institutions, including Parliament, rather than foreigners.
During raids in late September, the counterterrorism police arrested 10 men and seized 12 homemade bombs after uncovering an alleged plan to attack the police and lawmakers.
While most analysts say the groups lack the skills and know-how to inflict much damage, they also say the threat should not be overlooked.
“The fact that they were aiming at Western targets when all we’ve been hearing about is the police shows that the West is still on their radar,” said Todd Elliott, a security analyst with the Jakarta-based Concord Consulting.
Elliot has been following Hasmi since 2009, when its members were involved with protests calling for church closures in the suburbs of Jakarta. In 2010, the International Crisis Group, which monitors security threats, identified it as a Salafi group seeking to restore an Islamic caliphate in Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority country but one that is politically secular.
Most Indonesians practice a moderate form of Sunni Islam, but clashes between hard-line Muslim groups and Christians, as well as minority Muslim sects, have been on the rise in recent years. Many analysts have expressed concerns that the authorities are not doing enough to crack down on extremist groups that preach intolerance and hate.
Some extremist religious groups have started mixing with militants or finding inspiration from them, Elliott said. “Security forces are aware of it but reluctant to do anything about it.”
The alleged plot uncovered over the weekend also included a police compound in Central Java, and therefore was not aimed entirely at foreigners. However, Rafli said that possible plans to target U.S. facilities might have stemmed from the recognition of the cooperation between Indonesia and the United States, which helped train and support the country’s counterterrorism unit, Special Detachment 88.
A spokesman at the U.S. Embassy could not provide any additional information but said embassy officials were in close touch with investigators. Since Special Detachment 88 was formed in 2003, the Indonesian security forces have arrested more than 700 suspected militants and killed about 60. The latest arrests are part of an ongoing sweep that has netted dozens of suspected terrorists in recent months. Earlier this year, the police killed five men in Bali who security officials said they believed were planning a series of robberies aimed at raising funds for a future attack on the island.