The so-called Islamic State has claimed its first attack in the world’s most populous Muslim country — Indonesia.
The attack, which killed three people, including one Canadian, suggests the terrorist group’s expansionist ambitions go beyond the area of Iraq and Syria where it now controls territory, Kumar Ramakrisha, an expert on militant groups in Southeast Asia based at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, told Agence France-Presse.
“We know that [ISIS] has the desire to declare a province in this region and there are groups in this region… that have pledged allegiance to [ISIS],” he said.
READ MORE: Canadian killed in Jakarta terror attacks
But far more Canadian, American and European citizens have done the same, says Ernie Bower from the Center for Strategic & International Studies.
Thursday’s attack doesn’t appear to be directed from inside Indonesia, but from the Islamic State’s de-facto capital in Raqqa, Syria. Its suspected coordinator is ISIS militant Bahrun Naim.
According to Reuters, counter-terrorism officials in Indonesia estimate there are more than 1,000 people in the country who sympathize with ISIS. But that’s only about 0.004 per cent of Indonesia’s population of more than 255 million.
The last deadly terror attack to hit Jakarta was in 2009, when the al Qaeda-affiliated Jemaah Islamiyah set off bombs at the JW Marriott and Ritz Carleton hotels, killing seven people. The same group was responsible for the far deadlier 2002 bombings on the resort island of Bali. Of the 202 victims, 164 were foreign visitors — including two Canadians.
Bower says Indonesia’s condemnation of those attacks makes it less likely ISIS will find sympathizers in the country.
“The biggest counter-terrorism force wasn’t really the police or the counter-terrorism units… it was Indonesian people and communities that outed these guys wherever they went.”
But he said counter-terrorism officials have still played a big role in thwarting attacks since then — and they were on guard ahead of Thursday’s bombings.
The attack came after several warnings in recent weeks from police that Islamic militants were planning something big.
The country had been on high alert after authorities said they foiled a plot by Islamic militants to attack government officials, foreigners and others. About 150,000 police officers and soldiers were deployed on New Year’s Eve to guard churches, airports and other public places.
More than 9,000 police were also deployed in Bali.
Last month, anti-terror police arrested nine suspected militants and said they had planned attacks “to attract international news coverage of their existence here.”
With files from The Associated Press
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