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Asia-Pacific

Who was behind Indonesia bombings?

media Police stand guard at police headquarters following a suicide attack in Surabaya, Indonesia May 14, 2018 in this photo taken by Antara Foto. Antara Foto/Didik Suhartono/via REUTERS

Who was behind Monday's suicide bombing of a police headquarters and Sunday's attacks on churches in Indonesia's second city Surabaya? The Islamic State (IS) armed group is claiming responsibility  but it is not clear that the attackers - two families, including childre - were acting under the group's direct orders.

“We've had a number of home-grown terrorists, the Florida night club shooter, we had a gentleman here in Australia who claimed that he was inspired by the Islamic State,” says Ben Rich, a terrorism expert with Monash University in Australia.

This is the first time that they are taking their own children as suicide bombers.
Indonesia bombings 14/05/2018 - by Jan van der Made Listen

“But when we dug into his background it was very dubious that he had a clear connection to them or, if he was gravitating towards this, but it is something most certainly that intrigues in propaganda and online magazines.”

Return from Syria

In the latest Indonesian bombings there appears to have been some link between the perpetrators and IS, however.

“The wife was from probably one of the richest families in her hometown. And her husband was also from a decent family, a normal family,” says Yohannis Sulaiman, a specialist with the Jenderal Ahmad Yani University in Indonesia.

“But they had become radicalised and they all went to Syria. So we have three families who went to Syria, joined Isis [IS] and came back from Syria a while ago.”

Sulaiman explains that, unlike other countries, Indonesia doesn’t have the legal instruments to detain people who return from fighting in the Middle East.

“They were allowed to go on living [normally]. They were under surveillance but the surveillance service is not very stringent and, in fact, one of the main reasons why they are allowed to go free is that there is no law in Indonesia that forbids you to go outside Indonesia and to join this kind of organisation,” he points out.

According to the law Indonesians are not allowed to join the armies of foreign states, “but if it comes to [Colombian rebel group] Farc or [Basque separatists] Eta or Isis or whatever, there is no law against it,” Sulaiman says.

Indonesia has seen few suicide bombings in recent years. The most notorious attack took place in 2002 when terrorist killed 202 people in a night club in Bali, and in 2009 the Mariott hotel in Jakarta was bombed, killing 12 and injuring 150.

But a tough anti-terror programme and strict anti-terror laws seem to have helped keep the number of attacks down.

Family attacks a new tactic

The new tactic of involving whole families in a joint suicide bombing exercise is seen as a worrying development.

“It is very peculiar and, in fact, if you look at all other suicide bombings, they are done by a single person," Sulaiman comments. "But this is the first time I think that they are taking their own children as suicide bombers.".

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