Indonesian police have had a sharp wake-up call following the May 9-10 riot by hard-core Islamic militants at a police detention center on the southern outskirts of Jakarta. The siege left five policemen brutally murdered and the terrorists in charge of enough weaponry to start a war.
With national police chief Tito Karnavian away in Jordan, his deputy, General Syaffrudin, struggled to fend off suggestions that police had temporarily lost control of the prison, located in the compound of the paramilitary Police Mobile Brigade (Brimob) headquarters.
The five killed policemen, all belonging to the elite Detachment 88 counterterrorism unit, were shot in the head and in most cases had their throats cut and their bodies subject to mutilation and bruising in ways that indicated they were tortured.
The body of one of the police victims was found hanging in a cell and one inmate was killed with two bullets to the chest after a brief exchange of fire at the end of the 36-hour stand-off in the southern suburb of Depok.
Sources close to police say the rioters, who claimed loyalty to Islamic State (ISIS), seized control of 88 firearms, including 59 assault rifles and 29 pistols, and a staggering 28,400 rounds of ammunition.
The 155 rioting prisoners finally surrendered without further resistance after heavily-armed police stormed the prison to secure the release of a sixth hostage, who was not seriously injured.
Jakarta’s leading daily newspaper, Kompas, ran a black front page on May 11, saying the country was in mourning and displaying a headline that read “Time for the State to be Firm.”
It was the worst incident of its kind at an Indonesian facility since the government went to war on terrorism. But it came as no surprise given the overcrowded conditions and a brawl last November during which inmates were pictured with an ISIS flag.
This time, at least one of the rioting prisoners was able to record unfolding events on Facebook and Instagram using a cellphone that had either been smuggled into the jail or was seized from one of the hostages.
Most of the inmates from the three affected prison blocks were later transferred to the Nusakambangan island prison, off the south coast of Central Java, where high-profile terrorist leaders are already held in single-cell confinement.
Questions are being raised over how the militants were able to seize such a large arms cache when prison guards are only meant to carry batons and other weaponry should have been stored well away from where the prisoners are confined.
What triggered the unrest remains unclear, but some reports suggested it arose after warders refused to pass on food family members had brought for Wawan Kurniawan, leader of the Pekanbaru, Riau, chapter of Jamaah Ashurat Daulah (JAD), an IS affiliate.
Kurniawan, 42, was captured along with four other militants in October last year for planning attacks on Riau police posts. They are among 300 terrorist suspects arrested since early 2016, most of whom have yet to be tried and are being held in less than secure prisons.
Other reports claimed the riot broke out after authorities refused to allow the inmates to meet Indonesian IS leader Aman Abdurrahman, who was being held in a separate cell block and apparently did not take part in the violence.
Previously confined at Nusakambangan, Abdurrahman was brought to Jakarta earlier in the year to stand trial for his alleged role in the planning of a gun and bomb attack in downtown Jakarta in January 2016, Indonesia’s last serious terrorist serious incident in which four militants and four civilians died.
The 46-year-old militant has spent 12 of the last 14 years in confinement, serving five years for running a bomb-making class in 2004 and then being sentenced in 2009 to nine years in jail for supplying money and recruits to a training camp in the jungles of Aceh province.
More than 3,000 prisoners are detained at Nusakambangan’s seven maximum-security jails, half of them classified as high-risk prisoners, including 70 who are serving time for terrorism and another 50 death row criminals.
Despite a recent lull, police have been bracing for renewed terrorist attacks with the approach of Ramadan when, in a perversion of Islamic teachings, IS has convinced followers that any attack will have added significance in the eyes of god.
Five terrorist suspects have been arrested over the past week, three in Bogor, south of Jakarta, and two in Timika, the lowland city that acts as mining company Freeport Indonesia’s logistics base on the south coast of Papua.
The Bogor arrests were in connection with a planned attack on a district police station, using the highly-explosive chemical TATP, or acetone peroxide, which has been employed before in pressure-cooker devices, including one found on the country’s first would-be female suicide bomber.
A former overseas worker, Dian Yulia Novi, 28 was jailed last year for seven-and-half years after she was convicted of planning to plant the device outside the presidential palace in downtown Jakarta in December 2016.
TATP is popular among the new generation of terrorists because it is easily prepared from readily available retail ingredients, including hair bleach and nail polish remover, and can pass undetected through traditional explosive detection scanners.
In Papua, the two detainees were vegetable growers who were allegedly in the throes of a plot to bomb police and military targets around Timika, employing HMTD, or hexamethylene triperoxide diamine, another high explosive organic compound.