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Asia

Analyst: An attack on 'a soft target' was feared

A series of explosions and gunfire has struck the Indonesian capital Jakarta, resulting in the loss of several lives. Analyst Felix Heiduk talks to DW about the attacks and the growing extremism in the country.

DW: Were there any indications about an increased terror threat in Indonesia prior to this assault?

Felix Heiduk: Yes, there were. For instance, in early 2015, there was a foiled bomb attack targeting a shopping mall located in a Jakarta suburb. The bomb appeared to be similar to those used by the so-called "Islamic State" (IS) terror group. Previously, such explosive devices had never been used in Indonesia. According to the police, Indonesian IS fighters returning from Syria were behind this failed attack.

But since 2009, there hadn't been any major terror attacks in the country, neither on hard targets such as government buildings nor on soft targets like night clubs, restaurants or hotels. That had been the case previously. For example, over 200 people were killed by bombings on the resort island of Bali in 2002.

All attacks of recent years had been directed primarily at the local level against military and police forces.

How has the IS been increasing its presence in Indonesia?

Last November, the Mujahidin Indonesia Timur (MIT) - believed to be the largest and strongest terror group in the country - released an online video threatening to attack the presidential palace and hoist the IS flag on its rooftop. But experts later said such an elaborate attack would be well beyond the group's capabilities.

Deutschland Felix Heiduk Asien-Experte der SWP

Heiduk: 'There are ever-stronger societal movements that endorse an increasingly conservative and intolerant view of Islam'

It was then assumed that, if an attack were to take place, it would probably be launched against a soft target such as a restaurant or a shopping mall using a few assassins and light weapons. As far as one can tell, this scenario is very similar to what happened today. Although every victim is one too many, the latest attack claimed relatively few lives, especially when compared to the attacks that took place in the early 2000s.

How did the Indonesian government react to these security threats of the past few months?

On the island of Sulawesi the government launched a series of military and police operations against the terrorist group that published the video. As a result, a vast number of the organization's members, or alleged members, were either killed or captured.

The authorities also implemented further repressive measures against this group, and banned IS in Indonesia. For a short period of time extremists made attempts to set up a local IS "spin-off," but to no avail. Moreover, the government has tightened anti-terror laws in recent years, especially following the 2002 Bali bombings.

If we look beyond the judiciary and security apparatus, how does Indonesian society perceive extremism? Are there critical views on the issue?

Indeed there are, and these views have become stronger in recent years. Most Indonesians reject both the ideological interpretations and practices of groups such as IS and al-Qaeda. Surveys clearly show this.

Nonetheless, there is hard core of Islamist militancy in the country, and the authorities have to deal with this. And although most Indonesians disapprove of al-Qaeda and IS' goals and actions, there are ever-stronger societal movements that endorse an increasingly conservative and intolerant view of Islam.

Such views are not necessarily reflected in people's support of terrorist groups, but rather in religious intolerance in everyday life, protests, and attacks on religious minorities. The Indonesian government has failed to tackle this issue accordingly. The state has not done enough to protect religious minorities or taken appropriate action against certain interpretations of Islam.

Felix Heiduk is an Asia expert and political scientist at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) where he focuses on Southeast Asia, Islamism and security policy, among other things.