Indonesia Arrests 29 Suspects for Plotting Attacks on Political Rallies

(Bloomberg) -- Indonesian police have arrested dozens of militants linked to Islamic State, who authorities said were plotting attacks next week on political rallies outside the nation’s election commission office during the announcement of the official result of the presidential vote.

Most of the 29 suspects detained in the past two weeks were former ISIS militants, who fought for several years in Syria, and are members of Jamaah Ansharut Daulah, a local terror group, Mohammad Iqbal, a spokesman for the National Police, told reporters in Jakarta on Friday. The militants were planning to attack political workers on May 22 as they considered democracy as forbidden by Islam, he said.

Indonesia Arrests 29 Suspects for Plotting Attacks on Political Rallies

Supporters of Prabowo Subianto, who challenged President Joko Widodo in last month’s vote, are expected to protest outside the General Elections Commission on May 22 when the agency is set to announce the re-election of the incumbent. Prabowo, as Subianto in commonly known, has rejected unofficial quick counts and an official tally showing Widodo, known as Jokowi, in commanding lead. The former general has alleged massive irregularities in the conduct of the poll and vote count.

Police remain on high alert in Indonesia in anticipation of Prabowo supporters hitting the street to protest his defeat. Officers are deployed at locations around Jakarta, and are guarding the commission’s office, which has been barricaded with barbed wire.

"The risk remains greater from extremists who never left than from returning fighters," said Sidney Jones, director of the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict in Jakarta and an expert in terrorism in Southeast Asia. "The plot to disrupt the May 22 protest was real but the police seem to have intercepted the ringleaders," she said, adding there was never any chance an attack could affect the outcome of the elections.

Nationwide Raids

Nationwide raids over the last few months have seen 68 suspected militants arrested since the start of the year while eight others died either in police raids or carrying out suicide bombings, Iqbal said. The police urged people to not participate in any rallies on Wednesday as some militants on the run could still target such gatherings.

“We continue to work to preventive steps but we don’t know if they will stop or continue with their plan,” Iqbal said. “We shouldn’t underestimate them. We hope there are no mass gatherings on May 22 because they will attack everybody. They are using the momentum of democracy and election.”

The U.S. embassy in Jakarta warned its citizens to avoid areas where protests or political rallies are likely on Wednesday, according to a security alert issued on Friday. Prabowo may lead a protest of his supporters outside the election agency’s office on Tuesday or Wednesday, the Tempo newspaper reported, citing Novel Bamukmin, a spokesman for PA 212, which organized mass demonstration to seek jailing of former Jakarta Governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama in 2016.

Some of the militants detained by the anti-terror forces were experts in bomb making, and guns, ammunition and knives were recovered during the raids, Iqbal said. Nine militants were active members of Jamaah Ansharut Daulah, which pledges allegiance to Islamic State, and had trained in Syria, he said.

Muslim Majority

Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation, was rocked by a series of suicide bomb blasts targeted at churches last year which killed more than a dozen people and injured many more. The bombings prompted Jokowi to push parliament to pass an anti-terror law giving authorities tougher powers to combat a surge in extremist violence, including by those returning Islamic State militants.

Coordinating Minister for Politics, Legal, and Security Affairs Wiranto has ordered military and police commanders to take steps to prevent entry of people from outside Jakarta for protests on May 22.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.