No One Believed That a Terrorist Family Could Be Living Down the Street
Neighbors of one of the families behind Surabaya's deadly terrorist attacks struggle to reconcile the news with the family they all knew.
A police officer stands guard in Surabaya after Sunday's attacks. Photo by Beawiharta/Reuters
Wery Tri Kusuma is still trying to figure out what he missed. For years, his neighbors, a well-to-do family of six who made a good living off selling herbal oils, were just kind, regular folk. Wery knew about Dita Oepriarto's herbal oils business and remembers seeing him hand-out free products to his neighbors, Christians and Muslims alike.
Wery's wife Misnah was closer to the family. She regularly spoke with Dita's wife Puji Kuswati, the mother of two teenaged boys and two young girls. Puji was a regular at local Family Welfare Movement (PKK) meetings, a social network helping mothers, children, and families, as well as arisan gatherings, although she hadn't shown up to those in months.
That's why, when Wery and Misnah saw men dressed like police walking in and out of their neighbor's home, the first thing they thought of wasn't that the family next door were all hardened terrorists responsible for one of the worst attacks in Indonesia in the last decade. They thought the family was heavily in debt and the police were really debt collectors trying to get some money out of them.
Then the police showed Wery photographs of the Dita and Puji's corpses.
"No one believed it," Wery told me when I met him at his house in the Wisma Asri housing complex, an upper-middle class neighborhood in Surabaya.
As Indonesians still try to come to terms with last Sunday's tragic suicide attacks that left 18 churchgoers dead in the country's second-largest city, an uncomfortable amount of unanswered questions continues to haunt the city.
Authorities and experts are still trying to unravel what, exactly, Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD) is, even as police systematically dismantle its remaining networks in Surabaya and the nearby city of Malang, East Java. In recent days, police have arrested 15 JAD members, including the alleged head of the East Java chapter, and killed two others in shootouts.
In Surabaya and nearby Sidoarjo, neighbors are questioning how entire families of jihadists had lived in their midst for so long without raising alarm. Anang, another of Dita and Puji's neighbors, told me that he still couldn't understand how the family he saw interacting happily with their Christian neighbors were the same people who orchestrated a coordinated suicide attack on three churches in the midst of Sunday service.
He never saw the family hold a Quran recitation group at their home, or any other religious events. Sure, he saw a lot of people visit their cream-colored home, but Anang figured they were just customers.
According to police, Dita and the other families involved in this week's terrorist attacks were all members of the same religious studies group, a weekly meeting where they would watch videos of ISIS terrorist attacks in the West and propaganda videos produced by the terrorist group.
But the family also went to great pains to keep their radical views a secret.
"Dita would often give stuff to their non-Muslim neighbors," Anang said.
I visited the house on Tuesday, two days after the church bombings and the same day as terrorists 1,500 kilometers away in Pekanbaru, Riau, staged another attack, this one on a police station, that left one officer dead and four others injured.
The police had surrounded the house with plywood boards and yellow police tape. I was able to peek at the porch and saw two motorcycles and several bicycles parked outside. Officers from the local police district stood guard outside.
I left the housing complex and tried to track down whatever else I could learn about the family. Dita was a Surabaya local, having attended high school at SMA 5, a short 2 kilometer drive from where he would eventually attend—and drop out of—university.
Prayudi, an alumna who SMA 5, told me he didn't remember Dita. Prayudi was active himself in the school's Islamic spiritualism club (SKI) and he told me that Dita wasn't a member.
"He doesn't come to reunions," Prayudi remarked.
A few kilometers away at Airlangga University, Dita attended a few semesters at the economics department, where he majored in marketing and management, but he never earned a degree. He wasn't a particularly focused student and he left university after completing only 47 credits with a GPA of 1.47.
"He’s not active in any student organizations,” Moh Nasih, the university's rector, wrote in a statement.
Dita's wife Puji was born in Banyuwangi, a small city on the eastern tip of Java, before she moved to Magetan, a rural district way out where on the edge of East and Central Java. She lived with her aunt in a village called Krajan and graduated from high school before moving to Surabaya some time in the mid-90s.
The trail went dead a short while after that. All that's left are the odd moments that seem even odder in hindsight. Misnah told me that the morning of the attacks, Puji told her that she could take as much starfruit from her trees as she wanted. "You don’t have to ask me for permission," Misnah recalled her neighbor saying. "Just take all you want."
Misnah left and went to the market to find Puji's house empty. The family's car, the same one Dita would detonate only moments later outside the Surabaya Centre Pentecostal Church, was gone. And all that's left, it seems, are questions of what else everyone missed.