Suicide attackers hit Indonesian capital

Jakarta (AFP) – Islamic State-linked suicide attackers struck the capital of Muslim-majority Indonesia Thursday, killing a Westerner and blowing up a Starbucks, police said.

Five extremists launched what police said were Paris-style attacks as they detonated explosives and shot at people in a district packed with malls, embassies and United Nations offices.

The assault also left an Indonesian man dead and 20 other people injured, and a police post destroyed, in what the country’s president called “acts of terror”.

“Their network has links to ISIS in Raqqa,” said Jakarta police chief Tito Karnavian, referring to the IS group’s stronghold in Syria.

The claim of IS involvement will send a chill through Indonesia and other parts of Southeast Asia with Muslim populations, where there are fears extremists bloodied on Middle Eastern battlefields could have brought their jihad home.

Police said the five-strong cell who struck Thursday included three suicide bombers who initially targeted a Starbucks near a major shopping mall.

Plainclothes police aim their handguns towards suspects …

Plainclothes police aim their handguns towards suspects outside a cafe after a series of blasts hit  …

After the first explosion, men armed with pistols took two men hostage. Police identified them as an Algerian and a Westerner, although there were conflicting reports about whether he was Canadian or Dutch.

National police spokesman Anton Charliyan said the Algerian managed to escape with bullet wounds, but the second man was shot dead on the spot, while an Indonesian man who had tried to help the hostages was also shot and killed.

“Soon afterwards, two men riding…. motorbikes, ran into a police post and blew themselves up,” he said, adding four officers had been left in a critical condition.

“From what we see today, this group is following the pattern of the Paris attacks.”

IS gunmen killed 130 people in a series of coordinated attacks on the French capital in November.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo (front) visits the …
Indonesian President Joko Widodo (front) visits the area hit by gun and suicide bomb attacks in cent …

Witnesses said the gunman who emerged from Starbucks began firing at bystanders, reloading his weapon as security forces moved in behind the cover of moving vehicles.

“I heard a loud bang, boom. It felt like an earthquake. We all went downstairs,” said Ruli Koestaman, 32, who had been in a nearby building when the attack started mid-morning.

“We then saw that the Starbucks downstairs was destroyed too. I saw a foreigner — westerner, a man — with a mangled hand but alive.

“A Starbucks waiter then ran out with blood coming out of his ear. And I asked anyone hurt inside, he said yes, one. Dead already.

Indonesian police take position and aim their weapons …

Indonesian police take position and aim their weapons as they pursue suspects outside a cafe after a …

“Then everybody gathered and a terrorist appeared. He had a gun and started shooting at us and then at Starbucks. Then the police post… exploded.”

Graphic photographs from the scene showed the bloodied bodies of what appeared to be two men in civilian clothes lying by the side of a road next to the wrecked police post.

Another body, also apparently male, was pictured lying on his back in the centre of the street while a fourth, almost naked, lay nearby.

Jakarta police chief Karnavian said bombs containing screws and nails were hurled at police during the shootout, and they found six bombs planted in the area after the assault had ended.

Indonesian policemen collect evidence on a road following …
Indonesian policemen collect evidence on a road following blasts and shootings in Jakarta on January …

Starbucks said it was shuttering all branches in the Indonesian capital in response to the attack.

“This store and all other Starbucks stores in Jakarta will remain closed, out of an abundance of caution, until further notice,” a statement said.

The area is home to several embassies, including those of the United States, France and Spain. A number of United Nations agencies are also housed nearby.

The UN Environment Programme said a married Dutch employee had been seriously hurt in the attacks and remained in a critical condition.

Britain, Australia and the US advised their nationals to avoid the area. The US said its embassy would be partially closed on Friday.

An Indonesian policeman fires his handgun towards suspects …
An Indonesian policeman fires his handgun towards suspects outside a cafe after a series of blasts…

Indonesian President Joko Widodo urged people to remain calm.

“Our nation and our people should not be afraid, we will not be defeated by these acts of terror,” he said, in comments broadcast by MetroTV.

“We also condemn the act that has disturbed the security and peace and spread terror among our people.”

Indonesia suffered several major bomb attacks by Islamic radicals between 2000 and 2009, including the 2002 strike on the resort island of Bali that killed 202 people.

A security crackdown weakened the most dangerous networks, leading to a long lull in large-scale strikes.

But the New York-based Soufan Group says that of the 500-700 Indonesians who travelled abroad to join the self-proclaimed caliphate of the IS, scores have since returned.

“We know that ISIS has the desire to declare a province in this region,” said Kumar Ramakrishna, a counter-terrorism analyst at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.

“The threat of returning Southeast Asian fighters radicalised in the Iraq/Syria region (is) another factor of concern.”

An-IS linked news agency, citing an unidentified source, said that the attack was carried out by IS fighters but there was no immediate claim of responsibility from the group itself.

Regional terrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna said the assault bore the hallmarks of the Islamic State group.

“The only group that has the capability and the intention to mount coordinated, simultaneous attacks in Jakarta is the ISIS network,” he told AFP in Singapore.