JAKARTA (Reuters) - A suicide bombing in Indonesia last week highlighted a trend of militants acting alone or in small groups to attack Indonesians rather than foreigners to push an Islamist agenda, the International Crisis Group (ICG) said in a report on Tuesday.
This has raised concern about more low-level attacks in the world’s most populous Muslim country, which has been seen as having successfully combated militancy but is now seeing a spike in religious intolerance.
“Ideological shifts originating in the Middle East have combined with local circumstances to produce a trend that favours targeted killings over indiscriminate bombings, local over foreign targets and individual or small group action over operations by more hierarchical organisations,” the ICG said.
Thirty people, most of them policemen, were wounded in a suicide bombing in a mosque in a police compound on April 15, the most serious in a recent spate of attacks.
Police identified the bomber as Muhammad Syarif Astanagarif, 32. They said his bomb was similar to ones used by major militant networks in the past
Police are investigating whether the bomber had links to groups such as Jemaah Islamiah (JI), an outlawed southeast Asian group with links to al Qaeda, or Jema‘ah Ansharut Tauhid (JAT), which has not been banned.
Legal hardline groups have in the past tended to target places such as bars and massage parlours, armed with sticks and machetes rather than bombs and guns.
“The last two years have seen an increasing merger of violent and non-violent extremist agendas in Indonesia,” said the ICG’s Jim Della-Giacoma in the report.
“Counter-radicalisation programmes need to move beyond law enforcement to stop extremism at the source.”
Metro TV footage showed pictures of the suicide bomber at rallies against the minority Ahmadi sect, which is seen as deviant by many Indonesians. Police said the bomber had also been involved in ransacking a small shop for selling liquor.
The ICG said the new trend did not mean radical groups would no longer target foreigners, whose numbers are growing in Southeast Asia’s biggest economy in tandem with rising investment by multinational companies.
Indonesia has suffered major bombings over the past decade, notably the 2002 Bali nightclub bombings that killed 202 people, including many foreign tourists, which police blamed on Jemaah Islamiah.
Militant groups that want to establish an Islamic state such as JAT, whose leader Abu Bakar Bashir is on trial, could provide networks, funds and outreach through radio stations to spread radical teachings and create more small groups committed to “individual” jihad, the ICG said.
In a recent interview with Reuters, the head of Indonesia’s anti-terrorism agency said militants were using parcel bombs and targeting minorities to try to push an Islamist agenda on the government and warned they could launch more small attacks.
Militant attacks and incidents of religious intolerance have risen in recent weeks, with mobs lynching three followers of the
Ahmadi sect and torching two churches on Java island.
Reporting by Olivia Rondonuwu; Editing by Alan Raybould and Robert Birsel