Everything We Know (So Far) About the Terrorist Attacks in Surabaya

It's tragic times in Indonesia's second city.

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14 May 2018, 7:49am

Photo by Beawiharta/ Reuters

Indonesia's second-largest city is reeling on Monday after a series of terrorist bombings hit Surabaya in the last 24 hours, pushing the death toll to 15 and setting off renewed concerns about the increasingly deadly influence of the Islamic State (ISIS) in Indonesia.

The latest attack occurred this morning at the Surabaya Police headquarters when a man, woman, and child, drove up to a security checkpoint on a motorbike and detonated a suicide bomb. According to initial reports, at least 10 people were injured, most of them civilians, and another seven were possibly killed in the blast, although any fatalities remain unconfirmed.

Warning: the following video is pretty graphic

Hours earlier, a bomb prematurely exploded inside a low-cost apartment complex in Sidoarjo, East Java, a town on the outskirts of Surabaya, killing three. That apartment was next to a local police station and when police arrived on the scene of the explosion, they found three people, believed to be members of the same family, dead on the floor.

“I checked the blast site and found their family members laying on the floor with blood all over the place," Puguh, a neighbor, told local media. "They are presumably dead."


Watch: This Indonesian School Is Deradicalizing The Children Of Convicted Terrorists


Two children who were in a different room at the time of the explosion survived the blast and were removed from the apartment by police. According to investigators, the type of explosives found in the Sidoarjo apartment were the same type used in the series of church bombings that began this spate of violence early Sunday morning.

Those attacks, one of the worst in more than a decade, struck three churches during Sunday morning services earlier that day. The synchronized attacks were carried out by a single family who had recently returned from an ISIS-controlled region in Syria.

The fact that an entire family, including their young children, were behind the attacks, shocked many in Indonesia. President Joko Widodo called the attacks "barbaric," during an official visit to the scene of the blasts on Sunday.

“This is a cowardly act, undignified act, a barbarian act," Jokowi told the press. "And I have to emphasize, we will fight against terrorism and we will eradicate terrorism to its roots.”

The terrorist attacks began Sunday morning when a man named Dita Oepriarto dropped his wife Puji Kuswati and their two daughters, ages nine and 12, off at Surabaya's Diponegoro Indonesian Christian Church. The mother, dressed as a churchgoer, walked up to the front of the church, wrapped her arms around a worshipper, and detonated a suicide bomb, according to eyewitness reports. All three, including the two young girls, were wearing explosive belts, police told the press.

The man, Dita, then drove to a second church about 20 minutes away and detonated his explosives-filled vehicle at the Surabaya Centre Pentecostal Church. Meanwhile, his two sons, ages 16 and 18, drove their motorbikes onto the grounds of the Santa Maria Catholic Church and detonated suicide bombs in the final part of the terrorist plot. All of the attacks occurred within an hour, with the last two happening mere minutes apart.

In all, at least 13 people were killed in the terrorist attacks, including the family of suicide bombers. More than 40 others were injured in the church bombings.

The police investigation is still ongoing, but early reports say that all of the terrorists were members of Jemaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD)—an ISIS-linked organization rising to prominence in Indonesia that might not actually be an organization at all. Terrorism experts previously told VICE that JAD is more of a catch-all term used to describe ISIS supporters than a structured organization that's on-par with terrorist groups of the past like Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) and the East Indonesia Mujahideen (MIT).

Still, JAD has been linked to enough recent attacks to make authorities concerned. The group is behind the 2017 suicide bombing of a Jakarta bus station and its founder Aman Abdurrahman, a man currently jailed for running a terrorist training camp, has ties to Indonesian jihadis in Syria and has previously pledged allegiance to ISIS.

Aman also played a role in the 2016 terrorist attacks outside a Starbucks in Central Jakarta—the first incident linked to ISIS to occur in Indonesia. ISIS claimed responsibility for this attack too, announcing that it was behind the "martyrdom attacks" through its official Amaq News Agency.

Indonesian authorities have long been concerned with the potential risks of allowing its citizens to return from living in ISIS territories in Syria and Iraq. According to official estimates, some 700 Indonesians have crossed the border into Syria, most of them ISIS sympathizers hoping to find a new home in the terrorist group's self-declared caliphate.

Much of that caliphate is now gone and dozens of Indonesians have since returned home. Some of them returned with shocking stories of life under the brutal regime. But others, like Dita and his family, came back intent on enacting the same kind of brutality back home.

Indonesia currently lacks laws barring its citizens from moving abroad to join a terrorist organization or moving back home afterwards. The Jokowi administration has been pushing for more than a year to pass new, harsher anti-terrorism laws that would allow them greater latitude in the fight against terror.

But rights groups argue that the draft anti-terrorism bill goes too far. Under the proposed law, police are allowed to strip suspected terrorists of their citizenship, detain suspects for nearly a year without filing charges, detain those accused of plotting a terrorist attack for six months as a pre-emptive measure, and jail anyone caught spreading radical ideologies for up to 12 years. It also lowers the bar for wiretaps and police raids and increases the military's role in domestic affairs.

The president again pushed for House lawmakers to pass the new draft bill on Monday, giving them until June to approve the laws before Jokowi said he would step in and circumvent the House with a presidential rule in lieu of law, or a perpu, that forces the laws onto the books.

"This is a crucial legal umbrella for the police in taking firm actions, whether in terms of taking preventive or firm actions," Jokowi told reporters. "If by June, or by the end of the next sitting session, this is yet to be completed, I will issue a perpu."

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