Indonesia's Police: The Problem of Deadly Force
Indonesia's Police: The Problem of Deadly Force
Briefing 94 / Asia

Indonesia: The Hotel Bombings

On 17 July 2009, suicide bombers attacked two hotels in the heart of a Jakarta business district, killing nine and injuring more than 50, the first successful terrorist attack in Indonesia in almost four years.

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I. Overview

On 17 July 2009, suicide bombers attacked two hotels in the heart of a Jakarta business district, killing nine and injuring more than 50, the first successful terrorist attack in Indonesia in almost four years. While no one has claimed responsibility, police are virtually certain it was the work of Noordin Mohammed Top, who leads a breakaway group from Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), the regional jihadi organisation responsible for the first Bali bombing in 2002. One of the hotels, the Marriott, was bombed by Noordin’s group in 2003; this time, a meeting of mostly foreign businessmen appears to have been the target. The restaurant of the nearby Ritz-Carlton was also bombed.

The attack sets back Indonesia’s counter-terrorism efforts, but its political and economic impact has been minor. On 23 July President Yudhoyono was declared the winner of the 8 July elections with more than 60 per cent of the vote; nothing about the bombing is likely to weaken his government or prompt a crisis. The impact on the business community, which lost four prom­inent members, has been devastating, but economic indicators are stable.

The question everyone is asking is whether it will happen again. If the perpetrators are arrested quickly, Indonesians and expatriates will relax, although it will not necessarily mean the end of terrorist cells in Indonesia. If Noordin Top eludes police again, as he has for the last seven years, the nervousness will remain. One key question for the police to answer is how the operation was funded. It is possible the bombers raised the funds locally through armed robberies as they did for the October 2005 Bali bombing. If money came from an outside donor, a possible source would be al-Qaeda or its affiliates. This would open the possibility that outside donors could look for other Indonesian partners in the future, even if Noordin Top is behind bars. A third possibility is a donation from an Indonesian source outside the Noordin group itself.

This briefing provides answers to some frequently asked questions about the bombings: where did Noordin Top come from? What is his relation to JI? Why were these hotels targeted? What does this mean for the government’s deradicalisation program? And what additional measures should the government take? The easiest step and the most unwise would be to turn the anti-terrorism law into an internal security act that allowed for lengthy preventive detention. Instead, Indonesia needs continued attention to community policing, more attention to JI-affiliated schools that offer protection to men like Noordin and opportunities for recruitment, more understanding of international linkages, better intelligence and more support for prison reform.

Jakarta/Brussels, 24 July 2009

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