The Jakarta Attacks and Islamic State’s Global Reach

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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Last week’s terror attacks in the Indonesian capital city have once again highlighted the global reach of the Islamic State and its radical ideology. More worrying, the attacks have taken place in the world’s largest Muslim country, raising the disconcerting prospect of radicalization and terrorism spreading into Southeast Asia. The Indonesian government’s response was swift, minimizing the number of civilian casualties, but many are cautioning against becoming complacent, calling for long-term solutions to the threat of terrorism in the world.

In a recent editorial, the Jakarta Post underlined the unified response coming from all quarters of Indonesian society: “If we can call it a blessing in disguise, the terrorists’ strike on Thursday has emboldened both the state and the people of Indonesia to renew their commitment to stand firm against terror, mirroring the solidarity that formed in Paris last November, and other places where terrorists have launched heinous attacks….However, hashtags are not enough; what is more important is consistent enforcement of security regulations that require people to report to the police any suspicious activity they notice in their neighborhood.”

But as the Daily Times, a Pakistani daily, notes, governments should avoid becoming complacent and come up with a joint international response to properly address the terrorist threat: “The attack on the Indonesian capital is sadly part of a pattern that has been repeating itself in several countries around the world in recent months. Fears are growing that no place is safe at the hands of terrorists. It is a horrible situation that needs measures on a war footing….The government has to react quickly to this new phenomenon. There is no room for complacency. Our law enforcement agencies and other concerned authorities have to thoroughly review the situation. It is not possible to secure every public space. What the government can do is to take preventive measures to thwart these terrorist attacks….Moreover,                  shield and justification.”

This united response was important, especially if, as some have suggested, the attack was an attempt by ISIS to recruit more followers in the country with the largest Muslim population in the world: “It is easy to understand why ISIL would target Indonesia for its latest act of carnage. Not only is Indonesia the world’s largest Muslim nation by population but it has an admirable history of religious tolerance that runs contrary to ISIL’s twisted understanding of religion. Moreover, Southeast Asia is fertile ground for extremist movements, a fact not lost on ISIL’s strategists in Syria and Iraq….With these latest attacks, ISIL is thinking about its continuing recruitment and branding efforts. The group has been on the run in Syria and Iraq thanks to intensifying US-led coalition air strikes and by some accounts, recruitment is suffering. Therefore they need grand targets to rally misguided souls to join their efforts of destruction….With ISIL in need of fresh recruits, we can only expect further attacks in the vein of Jakarta and Istanbul.”

Some, including The Statesman’s Scott Edwards, feel that the reaction in the aftermath of the Jakarta
ISIS-inspired attacks should not be a cause for panic, even though we must maintain vigilance nonetheless: “First of all, there is no sign that this is a mass insurgency waiting to explode. An estimated 500 to 700 fighters sounds like a lot as a raw number but, relative to the Indonesian Muslim population of roughly 200 million, it’s vanishingly small. While ISIS has now apparently claimed responsibility for the latest attack, the attack seems to be on a smaller scale than anticipated. ISIS still seems to have a relatively small impact on the region and seems to present only a minor threat….This isn’t to suggest that complacency is acceptable, and that extends to security measures across Indonesia and South-east Asia as a whole. But the gap between fear and reality is not to be dismissed either. We should avoid assuming the worst about the region just because it is host to large, Muslim-majority countries – or dismissing those countries’ ability to fight violent radicalism themselves.”

Others have focused on the operational aspects of the fight against terrorist organizations like ISIS. For example, the Khaleej Times’ editorial highlights the need for greater cooperation on the intelligence front to prevent such attacks in the future: “There is no sign of enhanced technical capability, but security officials should be of concerned about the spread of militant ideology in Southeast Asia. Jakarta should be even more worried about its citizens returning from waging war in Syria and Iraq. Skills they picked up during the fighting could be used in the country to spread violence….Indonesian police responded swiftly to the assault and contained the damage. Buildings in the vicinity were not affected because of the low-grade explosives used by the killers. But it’s important is to prevent such incidents and that’s possible only through improved intelligence-sharing and better tracking of suspects online and in the real world. “         

But such attacks would ideally be stopped before they have even started, which is why in a recent editorial, the Gulf News team recommends implementing a social media campaign to counter ISIS’s appeal in Indonesia and elsewhere: “This latest terrorist attack in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country, is one more unambiguous signal to the world that no more time must be lost in rooting out Daesh….With more than 500 Indonesians reportedly recruited in Daesh’s ranks, it is critical that the government of Indonesia use every method at its disposal to destroy this nexus. And in the current climate of propaganda by social media, which Daesh is using with disturbing success, Indonesia must launch its own counter-ideology to radicalism and stem the tide of its people being drawn to the reprehensible ideology of groups like Daesh to safeguard its integrity and social harmony.”

Many of these recommendations risk taking a mostly reactive approach to terrorist attacks. Not all do, however, with the Peninsula editorial looking at questions of economic disparity and “unfair social conditions” as the underlying causes of the appearance and endurance of groups such ISIS and al-Qaeda: “The prevalence of this phenomenon is linked to political developments and deterioration of conditions in affected areas….If we look at the environment and places where these terrorist factions are operating, we can find societies suffering due to poverty and ignorance and people lacking the basic necessities of life. To fight this epidemic, there is a need for an-depth study on the reasons leading to the appearance of these groups, especially among the youth, to find sustainable solutions….It is clear that terrorism is not a coincidence but the outcome of daily lives of individuals and groups growing up under influences of thoughts contradicting Islamic teachings and living under unfair economic and social conditions.”

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Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct and balanced summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: Comments and feedback are welcome at


  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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