After Jakarta attack, Indonesia can take an important role in helping end the terror threat

The world has to support Indonesia in preserving its moderate brand of Islam; to do otherwise would benefit IS and other extremists

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 16 January, 2016, 1:13am
UPDATED : Saturday, 16 January, 2016, 2:38am

An attack by Islamic State terrorists on a major Asian city was only a matter of time. That Jakarta was chosen was unsurprising given that hundreds of Indonesians have joined the extremist Muslim group on battlefields in Syria and Iraq, and radicals have targeted it numerous times since the Bali bombings in 2002. But the shock at the circumstances and tragic loss of life has quickly been replaced by defiance. The country’s president, Joko Widodo, in calling for calm, has set the right tone by condemning the act and those behind it.

An understandable comparison has been drawn with a bombing in Istanbul on Wednesday that killed 10 people and with November’s attacks in Paris that left more than 130 dead. But the blasts and shootings on Thursday morning at a prominent downtown Jakarta intersection were poorly co-ordinated; of the seven who died, five were attackers. That raises questions about who was involved, and their connections to IS. Amid rumours that the extremists are planning to establish a caliphate in Southeast Asia and IS branches are being set up in Indonesia and the southern Philippines, those are important matters for governments trying to determine threat levels.

What is certain, though, is that an alliance of Western, Middle Eastern and Russian militaries are making increasing inroads against IS. To deflect attention against the losses of fighters and territory, the group’s strategy is to sow fear and show power and strength through attacks on soft targets. Its masterful use of social media to spread its extremist ideology has won it followers and soldiers from Muslim communities across the world and how many in Asia have returned with fighting and weapons skills is unknown. The Jakarta killings signal that Asia is now in the group’s sights and the region has to be alert to the threat; there has to be the best possible security and intelligence co-operation.

But Widodo, as the leader of the world’s most populous and moderate Muslim country, also has an important part to play. He has already raised his hand to help calm tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran and there is no reason why that should not be extended to bringing peace to civil war-wracked Syria and ending the threat of IS. Indonesia has good relations with all Middle Eastern governments, allowing it to confidently sit at any negotiating table in a part of the world split by rivalries between the Sunni and Shiite factions of Islam. But the world also has to support Indonesia in preserving its moderate brand of Islam; to do otherwise would benefit IS and other Muslim extremists.