Indonesia beefs-up security after IS-linked attack

Neighbours gather outside the home of the two Indonesians suspected of stabbing the country's chief security minister Wiranto in Pandeglang, Banten province, on 10 October, 2019. (AFP Photo)

Indonesian leader Joko Widodo ordered beefed-up security measures Friday after two militants from an Islamic State (IS)-linked terror group stabbed his chief security minister, with the politician in hospital recovering from emergency surgery.

Police were searching for more suspects in the wake of the assassination attempt on Wiranto, a 72-year-old former army chief who goes by one name.

The minister was knifed twice in the stomach as he left his vehicle in Pandeglang on Java island during an official visit on Thursday.

"Although there are already security precautions, they should be improved so what happened to (Wiranto) never happens again," Widodo told reporters in Jakarta on Friday.

A 31-year-old man and a 21-year-old woman, reportedly a married couple, were arrested at the scene.

They were later identified as members of Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD), an extremist network loyal to the IS group.

Widodo said he had ordered the national police and intelligence agency chiefs to pursue other suspects within JAD, which was responsible for several previous attacks – including deadly suicide bombings at churches in Indonesia's second-biggest city Surabaya last year.

The attack came shortly before Widodo begins his second term as president of the Southeast Asian archipelago of 260 million people.

"An attack like this should set off alarm bells for security personnel to increase their caution," said Ridwan Habib, a terrorism researcher at the University of Indonesia.

Police, however, sought to play down fears of a long-planned assault Friday, saying the male suspect led a "spontaneous" attack in response to the recent arrest of a local JAD leader.

"He saw helicopters and large groups gathering" for Wiranto's arrival, said national police spokesman Dedi Prasetyo.

"Spontaneously, he went to the square and told his wife that he would attack the official and his wife must attack the nearest police officer," he added.

Three others – a local police chief and two aides – also suffered knife wounds in Thursday's attack. Their injuries were non-life-threatening.

'Looked weak'

Indonesia, the world's biggest Muslim-majority nation, has long struggled with attacks by Islamist militants, including the 2002 Bali bombings.

Saturday marks the 17th anniversary of the attack in Bali that killed over 200 people – Indonesia's deadliest terror incident.

Wiranto was recovering on Friday.

"I visited him earlier today. He could talk but still looked weak," presidential chief of staff Moeldoko, who also goes by one name, told the media. 

The male suspect had reportedly been under surveillance by Indonesia's intelligence agency for hoarding sharp weapons.

Some past militant attacks have been against police and other state symbols, but Thursday's incident is thought to be the first known assassination attempt by JAD on an Indonesian politician.

Indonesian authorities routinely arrest suspected IS-loyal militants they claim are planning bomb and other attacks.

Wiranto, the retired chief of the armed forces and a failed presidential candidate, was appointed to his post in 2016 and oversees several departments, including the foreign affairs and defence ministries.

A major figure in Indonesian politics, he has faced controversy over alleged human rights violations and allegations of crimes against humanity linked to Indonesia's brutal occupation of East Timor.

In May, police said Wiranto and three other top officials were targeted in a failed assassination plot linked to deadly riots in Jakarta after Widodo's re-election victory.

A group of six people – arrested before they could carry out the killings – hoped the killings would plunge the country into chaos, police said at the time. - AFP