By B. Raman
Is a copy-cat act of terrorism similar to the 26/11 terrorist strikes in Mumbai possible in Indonesia? That is a question that needs examination following the disclosures made by the Indonesian authorities about the intentions of a recently neutralised group of terrorists close to Al Qaeda and based in Aceh to organize such strikes in August, 2010.
This group with an estimated strength of about 80 and led by Dulmatin, formerly of the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), believed in targeted killings through hand-held weapons of non-Muslim foreigners and Muslims declared apostates for collaborating with non-Muslims to achieve an Islamic rule in Indonesia and other areas with a Muslim majority instead of indulging in indiscriminate killings of non-Muslims and Muslims alike with explosives like the JI and its splinter group headed by Noordin Top were doing. The sleeper cells of this new group were detected by the Indonesian authorities in February last and in operations lasting over three months, the Indonesian authorities have killed 13 members of the group including Dulmatin and arrested 58 others.
On the basis of the interrogation of the arrested persons, the Indonesian Police announced on May 14,2010, that they had foiled a plot by them to kill President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and foreigners in an attack during the independence day celebration on August 17, 2010. Bambang Hendarso Danuri, the national police chief, told a press conference: “They planned to target the Indonesian President (Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono), state officials and foreign guests attending the ceremony.” He said that the planned attack was inspired by the 26/11 terrorist strikes in Mumbai carried out by the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) of Pakistan. He added: “They planned to launch a series of assassinations in Java and Jakarta with their specific target foreigners, especially Americans, and the Indonesian President.” They also planned to lay siege to hotels, “copying what had occurred in Mumbai.” If the attack had succeeded, the militants would have “declared Indonesia as an Islamic state”. According to the police chief, one of the arrested suspects was to collect firearms and a grenade launcher from an Islamist stronghold on Mindano, the main island in the southern Philippines, to be used in the planned attack.
While the splinter group from the JI led by Dulmatin might have wanted to emulate the LET and organize multi-target commando style swarm attacks with a mix of modus operandi involving the use of hand-held weapons and explosives, it is doubtful whether it had the capability to organize such attacks without proper training and the required weapons. The LET succeeded because it had a well-trained group at its disposal and enjoyed the sponsorship and training assistance of serving and retired officers of Pakistan’s Army and Inter-Services Intelligence.
While it is easy for a terrorist group to organize indiscriminate killings of civilians with improvised explosive devices (IEDs), Commando-style swarm attacks require proper training similar to the training given to the special forces of the Army. They require not only suitable weapons, but also modern communication sets to facilitate co-ordinated attacks.
There is no evidence to show that the Dulmatin group had the required capability, weaponry and other equipment. Moreover, whereas many members of the pre-2004 vintage of the JI had the benefit of training and jihadi inoculation in the Af-Pak region, there is no reason to believe that the post-2004 crop of South-East Asian, including Indonesian, jihadis—whether belonging to the JI or other groups—- have had similar training and jihadi inoculation outside the S-E-Asian region—-either in the Af-Pak area or in Yemen.
The Dulmatin group was essentially a collection of indigenous elements, indigenously motivated, trained and armed with no benefit of sponsorship and assistance of the intelligence agency of any other country—-either in the region or outside. While the security forces of the region should guard themselves against the dangers of 26/11 style terrorist attacks, the possibility of such attacks is still low to medium.