Jakarta: ISIS franchise exploited sectarian tensions

ISIS claimed responsibility for the coordinated bomb blasts and armed attacks that left at least seven dead—including five assailants—in the Indonesian capital Jakarta Jan. 14. Security forces battled militants for hours in the city's central business and shopping district. The online statement said the attack was carried out by "soldiers of the Caliphate," targeting "citizens of the Crusader coalition" against ISIS. Indonesia is not actually part of the coalition fighting ISIS in Iraq and Syria. It has been invited to join the new Saudi-led Islamic Military Alliance, but last month announced that it had not reached a decision to do so. (BBC News, SCD, Australia, Jan. 14; DNK, Pakistan, Dec. 18)

Announcement of an ISIS franchise in the archipelago came last year, when the commander of the East Indonesia Mujahedeen militant group swore his loyalty to the "Islamic State," and pledged to struggle to make Indonesia a "province." Several members of the network were captured by the National Police earlier this month, but the commander—known as "Santoso"—continues to evade a nationwide manhunt. He is held responsible for a series of attacks on Christians in Poso district of Central Sulawesi. Sectarian violence between Muslims and Christians cost thousands of lives in Sulawesi before the government-brokered Malino peace agreement in 2001, but Santoso's network has for the past two years been seeking to revive the conflict. (SMH, Jan. 8; Asia News, Jan. 21, 2015)

In November, the East Indonesia Mujahedeen released a video in which Santoso pledged to attack government targets in Jakarta, including the presidential residence. (Asia Sentinel, Nov. 25) Muslim leaders in Sulawesi have responded to the group's emergence with a campaign to preach against the ISIS ideology at mosques throughout the island, an initiative coordinated with provincial authorities. (Anadolu, Jan. 8)

Tensions in Sulawesi have been enflamed by the ecological impacts of mega-mining projects in the island. Communal conflict between Christians and Muslims has escalated along with the degradation of lands and waters used by both communities.

The last major terror attack in Jakarta, in 2009, was claimed by the Jemaah Islamiyah, a now-moribund network affiliated with al-Qaeda, which also groomed the militant network in Sulawesi.

ISIS leader slain in Indonesia

The militant commander Santoso is reported to have been killed in a gun-battle with security forces in the jungles of Poso, Central Sulawesi. Operation Tinombala mobilized ome 3,500 troops from the Indonesian military and the police have been deployed to comb the jungles and mountainous areas of Poso in search of Santoso and his East Indonesia Mujahideen (MIT), also known as Abu Wardah. (Straits Times)

Anti-blasphemy protests rock Jakarta

One was killed as police fired tear gas and water cannon to disperse protesters demanding the resignation of the Christian governor of Jakarta for allegedly insulting the Koran. Demonstrators called for the governor to be prosecuted for blasphemy in the massive demonstration. A sea of protesters wearing white robes took to the streets in a huge show of force against Gov. Basuki Tjahaja Purnama. The protest was triggered by accusations that Purnama, better known by his nickname Ahok, insulted Islam by criticizing opponents who used Koranic references to attack him ahead of an election in February. Purnama apologized for the remarks, but his opponents have built a groundswell of support calling for his arrest and incarceration under Indonesia's tough blasphemy laws. (Al Jazeera)

Jakarta governor jailed for blasphemy

Jakarta's Christian governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama was sentenced to two years in prison for blasphemy on May 9. Protesters blocked traffi outside the prison, and shook the fence of the facility, while chanting "destroy FPI"—a reference to the Islamic Defenders Front, the hardline group behind many of the protests against Purnama.

Last year, Purnama said political rivals were deceiving people by using a verse in the Koran to say Muslims should not be led by a non-Muslim. An incorrectly subtitled video of his comments later went viral, helping spark huge demonstrations that ultimately resulted in him being bought to trial. (Channel News Asia)

ISIS claims Indonesian church attacks

ISIS claimed responsibility for suicide bomb attacks on three churches in the Indonesian city of Surabaya that killed at least 11 people May 13. Another 40 injured in a wave of blasts, including a suicide bombing, outside one Catholic and two Protestant churches. (Christianity Today, NDTV)