JAKARTA – In a handwritten note later found in her room, Zakiah Aini pleaded with her elder sister to wear a jilbab, her mother to stop using credit cards and working in the government’s interests, and for the entire family to “stop believing in people who claim to be intelligent.”
“I love you very much,” she wrote in clear printed words on March 31. “But God loves me more, and this is why I have decided to take this road, as that taken by the Prophet, and in doing so saved me and with God’s blessings given you and the family a place in heaven.”
Hours later, the blue-veiled 25-year-old university dropout was dead, gunned down at Indonesia’s National Police Headquarters as she reportedly fired six shots from a gas-operated Airsoft pistol that posed little danger of serious injury.
The suicide-by-cop came three days after a newly-married couple blew themselves up outside a church in Makassar, South Sulawesi, wounding more than 20 people in the first terrorist incident since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Strangely, after uploading a picture of an Islamic State (ISIS) flag and a message of support for the terror group to her Instagram account, Aini also left behind a 9mm automatic pistol, along with six live rounds and a membership card to a Jakarta shooting club.
Her letter appeared to show the role Islamic clerics played in radicalizing the young woman at a time when the Joko Widodo government has been on a campaign to weed out extremists in mosques and among teachers and civil servants.
“Watch the (Islamic) sermons, which do not acknowledge kafirs (infidels) such as Ahok (former Christian-Chinese Jakarta governor Basuki Pranowo),” she said, while scratching out three other names. “It is Allah who will ensure your good fortune.”
National police chief General Listyo Sigit Prabowo called Aini a lone wolf, but it was not clear whether she had direct links to one of Indonesia’s extremist groups or was, in fact, acting on her own.
Prabowo, only the second Christian to hold the post, was appointed to head the country’s police force only last January following the still-unexplained killings of six bodyguards of extremist Islamic Defenders Front leader Rizieq Shihab during a night pursuit on Jakarta’s eastern expressway.
Police Commission chairman Benny Mamoto, a retired two-star general and a key figure in the 2002 Bali bomb investigation, criticized security at the sprawling police complex that allowed Aini to enter through a back gate without being searched.
The two attacks, one on Palm Sunday, appeared timed for the April 2-4 Easter weekend, which this year falls just ahead of the start of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadhan on April 17. Security has been tightened at all of the country’s churches.
In Makassar, the husband and wife team tried to ride their motorcycle into the compound of the city’s Catholic cathedral before triggering what police said was a pressure cooker bomb, a simple shrapnel-packed device favored by home-grown terrorists.
The couple was affiliated with the pro-ISIS extremist group Jamaah Anshurat Daulah (JAD), responsible for the last major terrorist incident in May 2018 when a family of suicide bombers attacked four churches and a police headquarters in the port city of Surabaya, killing 28 people and wounding 50 others.
Another Indonesian couple, both members of JAD, was blamed for twin explosions that ripped through a church in Jolo, capital of the Muslim-majority southern island of Sulu, in January 2019, leaving 20 worshippers dead and 100 wounded.
JAD first gained notoriety in a gun and bomb attack in the heart of Jakarta in January 2016 that left four civilians and four attackers dead. Its leader, Aman Abdurrahman, was sentenced to death for directing the attack from behind bars in a supposed maximum-security prison.
The latest bombing came after the Detachment 88 anti-terrorist unit killed two militants and arrested 19 more in a series of raids across Makassar that served as a reminder that ISIS-inspired terrorism remains an ever-present threat.
Police said the two men who died in January – a father and his son-in-law – were linked to the attacks in Sulu and were also plotting a suicide attack in the South Sulawesi capital; searchers later found a bomb, three rifles and dozens of bladed weapons in their house.
Following the latest attack, Detachment 88 rounded up 18 more suspected JAD members in Makassar, West Nusa Tenggara, East and West Java. During the raid in Bekasi, West Java, they found five bombs, four kilograms of bomb-making material and 1.5 kilograms of highly-explosive acetone peroxide (TATP).
The Surabaya attackers used TATP to assemble 25 pipe-bombs, and the same chemical was present in the pressure cooker device carried by overseas worker Dian Novi, 28, still serving a seven-year term for trying to plant it 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.