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.