Indonesia’s Latest Suicide Bombing Is a Sign of Women’s Increasing Role in Terrorism

A woman blew herself up in a police raid after her husband, an alleged ISIS-linked terrorist, was arrested on Wednesday.
15 March 2019, 9:08am
Indonesia's anti terrorism squad
Photo by Sigit Pamungkas/Reuters

Police captured alleged terrorist Husain, also known as Abu Hamzah, in Sibolga, North Sumatera, on Wednesday. Abu Hamzah is allegedly a part of an ISIS network in Sumatera. Following his arrest, during the 10-hour police standoff outside Hamzah's home, a suicide bomb went off, killing his wife Solimah and their 2-year-old child.

Police general Tito Karnavian said in a press conference in Medan that his team had been monitoring Hamzah and the terrorist network since the arrest of another alleged terrorist last Friday in Lampung. “We’ve been tracking the group, so we arrested the terrorist in Lampung first, then Sibolga,” Tito said.

After arresting Hamzah, authorities sieged the alleged terrorist’s house in a densely-populated neighborhood in Pancuran Bambu, Sibolga Sambas. Ten hours went by before Solimah set off the bomb that killed herself and her child, as well as injured one police officer and forced nearby residents to evacuate, according to Kompas. National Indonesian police spokesperson, Dedi Prasetyo, stated that Solimah was much more exposed to ISIS’ teachings than her husband.

“We tirelessly asked the alleged terrorist’s family to turn themselves in because there was a kid involved," Dedi told Kompas. "But our appeals couldn’t shake their ideology."

The London-based International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR) found there are hundreds of Indonesian women joining ISIS after returning from Syria, who are undetected by the government. The report points to the increasing number of women carrying out suicide bomb attacks, on top of playing a crucial role in the spread of extremist beliefs.

In their report Daesh to Diaspora: Tracing Women and Minors of Islamic State published in July 2018, the ISCR noted that of the 414,490 individuals known to be affiliated with ISIS—including men, women, and children—7,366 of them have returned to their home countries following ISIS’ defeat in Syria and Iraq. Those who returned may potentially create extremist cells in their respective countries, including Indonesia.

According to data gathered by the ICSR, of the 800 total Indonesians who joined ISIS in Syria, 113 of them were women and 100 of them were children. Of that total, only roughly 54 women and 60 children have been recorded as returnees. The whereabouts of the rest are unknown.

“Women and children play a significant role in the spread of ISIS’ ideology after the collapse of the “caliphate” at the end of 2017,” the report reads. “Those who are affiliated with ISIS can be a threat to security, as proven by the numerous failed plots and attacks that have happened all over the world.”

Two experts who were interviewed by BBC Indonesia suspect that Wednesday's suicide bombing and Hamzah's arrest are closely linked to the Indonesia's elections, set to take place next month.

Terrorism monitor Al Chaidar said the election has motivated ISIS sympathizers in Indonesia to revive, who see the election as a public distraction.

“They consider democracy and the presidential election to be despicable, and they will attack such related events or campaigns,” Chaidar told BBC Indonesia.

But Karvanian disagrees, saying that the law enforcement is considering the case to be purely an act of terrorism completely removed from the election. “They have nothing to do with the upcoming election," said the police general.