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Indonesia struggles to overcome terrorism

Failed attack on the presidential palace shows the gravity of the terrorist threat
Siti Elina, a 24-year-old Muslim woman, was arrested by police after she attempted to break into the presidential palace in Jakarta on Oct. 25

Siti Elina, a 24-year-old Muslim woman, was arrested by police after she attempted to break into the presidential palace in Jakarta on Oct. 25. (Photo supplied)

Published: October 27, 2022 10:54 AM GMT
Updated: October 28, 2022 03:49 AM GMT

The failed attempt by a Muslim woman to enter the presidential palace in Jakarta shows the gravity of the terrorism threat in Indonesia, an analyst says.

Jakarta police on Oct. 26 named Siti Elina, a 24-year-old Muslim, as a suspect after she pointed a gun at a presidential security guard before being arrested a day before.

According to police, the woman had been exposed to Islamic State and during her interrogation disclosed that she wanted to meet and lecture President Joko Widodo.

"She wanted to tell [the president] that Indonesia is heretical because it is not based on Islamic law, but the state ideology of Pancasila [secular ideology]," Hengki Haryadi, director of General Crime Investigation of the Jakarta police, said at a press conference.

The police said they found another airsoft gun when they raided Elina's house in Koja, North Jakarta. The possession of weapons by civilians is illegal in Indonesia.

Meanwhile, according to the National Counter Terrorism Agency, Elina is also a sympathizer of Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia, an extremist organization banned by the government in 2017 after calling for the creation of an Islamic caliphate.

Stanislaus Riyanta, a researcher at the Research Center for Police Science and Terrorism Studies at the University of Indonesia, said this attack shows that "the threat of terrorism is not over yet and radicalization occurs in many ways, directly or through media such as the Internet."

"One of the characteristics of Islamic State-affiliated groups is that they also use women as perpetrators of terror acts and we know that their targets are government offices and places of worship," he told UCA News.

He said this was a warning to all, including houses of worship, to remain vigilant because "acts of terror are still a serious threat, especially those carried out by small cells such as families and splinter groups, and individual actions due to the process of self-radicalization."

Riyanta, a Catholic, said Elina’s was not a lone wolf act. "She used a firearm, and it is unlikely that she could have acquired the weapons on her own,” he said.

He said rushing to judge the case as a lone wolf terror act will actually negate the role of certain groups or actors who may have been weapons providers or even her controllers.

"In fact, a very important effort in countering terrorism is to uncover the network in order to thwart future threats," he added.

Petrus Selestinus, a lawyer and spokesman for the East Nusa Tenggara Brotherhood, an alliance against radical groups in the Christian-majority province, hoped that what happened in Jakarta will wake up security officers in other places to the possibility of similar acts of terror, especially against places of worship.

Florentina Kius, a Catholic from St Helena parish in Karawaci on the outskirts of Jakarta, too expressed the hope that police will do their best to ensure public security.

"Every time I hear the news about an act of terror, what always arises is anxiety, especially when going to church," she said.

The threat of Islamic extremism remains high in Indonesia, although the authorities continue to foil attacks and even nab suspected terrorists.

Churches have been among the main targets of attacks. On Palm Sunday last year, a group affiliated with the Islamic State bombed Makassar Cathedral in South Sulawesi, the first church bombing since the May 13, 2018 bombing of three churches in Surabaya, East Java.

According to data from the Indonesian National Police, 370 people were arrested for terrorism crimes last year, up from 232 people in 2020.

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