By Rina Chadijah
Indonesian authorities have arrested almost 400 suspected militants in 2018, the nation’s police chief said Thursday, as he predicted that terrorism would pose the biggest threat to public security next year.
In May, Indonesia suffered suicide bombings that targeted three churches and a police headquarters in Surabaya, the nation’s second largest city, killing 24 people, including children who allegedly joined their parents on a terror spree that took their own lives.
Those back-to-back attacks spurred the Indonesian Parliament to fast-track an anti-terror law that allows police to detain suspects for 21 days without charge.
“Now we are stronger to do counter strike and preventive strike, rather than waiting for evidence of a committed crime,” Gen. Tito Karnavian, chief of the national police, told a news conference.
Tito was referring to the revised Anti-Terrorism Law that also allows authorities to hold suspects for another 200 days after filing charges against them, giving police sufficient time to gather evidence before handing the case to prosecutors.
Out of the 396 suspects arrested this year on suspicion of terror links, 141 people had been charged in court, Tito said. By comparison, he said, police arrested 176 terror suspects last year.
Tito attributed the significant statistical jump to what he described as intensive counter-terrorism operations prior to hosting of international multi-sport events, such as the Asian Games on Aug. 18 to Sept. 2 in the capital Jakarta and Palembang city.
“Honestly, the operations to arrest terror suspects after the Surabaya attacks were possible after the law was issued,” Tito said. “So, while the Surabaya case is a tragedy, at the same time it is a lesson, too.”
The attacks in Surabaya became the first suicide bombings involving family members in the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation of more than 260 million people.
Tito told reporters in September that within four months after the bombings, police had arrested at least 352 members of the local branch of the Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD), a network of Indonesian militants with Islamic State (IS) links.
During the past 12 months, security forces also shot dead 25 men in separate gunfights that took place when the suspects refused to be arrested, according to a police report. It said eight officers were killed and 23 were injured in those anti-terror operations.
The Surabaya attacks occurred a few days after terrorist inmates rioted over a food complaint at the Mobile Brigade (Brimob) detention facility, a maximum-security prison in West Java’s Depok district, leaving five police officers and an inmate dead.
IS has inspired cells of radical groups in Indonesia, Tito said. The extremist group once held vast territories that straddled parts of Iraq and Syria and ran a so-called caliphate in the Syrian city of Raqqa until it was routed by U.S.-backed forces last year.
“While they are not completely gone, they will try to mobilize their network. Like in Europe, in America, including in Southeast Asia,” Tito said, referring to the IS.
More than 600 Indonesians, including dozens of women and children, traveled to Syria to join IS, according Indonesian counter-terrorism officials. Since 2015, about 430 Indonesians have been deported from Turkey after trying to cross into Syria to join IS, Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi told reporters in June.
The possible return of more deportees and the Surabaya bombings have revived fears about IS’s attempts to spread its influence in Indonesia.
But Tito expressed confidence that with the doubling in size of the country’s counter-terrorism task force – from 600 to about 1,300 personnel – and also the establishment of a Terrorism Task Force in each police region, authorities can improve efforts to eradicate terrorism.
“Even though there are still potential threats … we will be able to overcome them,” he said.