COM 03/2016

The “Sarinah Thamrin” Bombing – Reflections on the Handling of Terrorist Acts by the Indonesian National Police

Pol. Col. Eko Sudarto, Policy Analyst at NCB Interpol Indonesia



Terrorism has become an increasingly interesting and challenging phenomenon in a world that is characterized by security instability. Acts of terror by Islamists are regarded as concrete actions out of dissatisfaction with the status quo. The effect of terrorism is no different from the communist threat that tried to launch revolutionary changes in the world under the ideology of internationalism. By the same token, it is hard to find acts of terror in Indonesia that are not related to terror events in other countries. For example, the terrorist bombing and gunshots on January 14, 2016 at the Police Station M.H road intersection Sarinah Thamrin in Central Jakarta, took place within a period of two months after the bomb attack in the city of Paris, France.

The fact that a series of terror in one country correlates with acts of terror in other parts of the world can also be seen from the historical record of terrorist bombings during the last two decades. The terror attacks on September 11, 2001, in New York, United States (US) or more commonly known as the terror of 9/11 has become viral for radical groups in Indonesia. In the year following 9/11terrorist acts in Indonesia include the New Year at the “home to eat chicken” in Bulungan Jakarta, the Bali bombings on October 12, 2002 that killed 202 people, and the terrorist bombings at a McDonald’s restaurant in Makassar on December 5, 2002. Terrorism in Indonesia claimed very many lives also in later years, including the terrorist bombings at the JW Marriot Hotel on August 5, 2003, the bombing in Palopo, South Sulawesi on 10 January 2004, and the attack on the Australian Embassy in Jakarta on 9 September.

After the Bali bombing in 2002, the Indonesian National Police (Polri) received full support from the government to tackle the threat of terrorism. The police then formed a special anti-terror unit that was later given the name of Anti-Terror Special Detachment 88 (Densus 88 AT). Throughout the last two decades, the police performed very well in handling terrorism, including preventive measures against pockets of radical groups. The results of anti-terror police operations crippled some pockets of terror- ists, who before 2010 were driven by Jemaah Islami- yah (JI).

By combatting terror, Detachment 88 has wea ened JI radicals. This is shown by the arrest of JI leaders. Some were killed in an ambush by the Den- sus 88 AT. One of the front men, Dr. Azhari Husin (involved in the first Bali bombing, the bombing of the JW Marriot 2003, and the Australian Embassy bombing) was killed on 9 November 2009 in a Densus 88 raid in Batu Malang one month after the bombings. Noordin M. Top (involved in the bomb- ing of the Australian Embassy, the bombing of the JW Marriot hotel and the Ritz Carlton in 2009) died on 17 September 2009 in a Densus 88 raid in the city of Solo. Dulmatin (involved in two Bali bombings) was killed in a raid in Pamulang, South Tangerang on March 9, 2010. Meanwhile, Imam Samudera, Mukhlas, and Amrozi who were member of JI and involved in the first Bali bombing were executed in mid-2008. Abu Bakar Ba’asyir, a JI spiritual lead- er and founder of the Indonesian Mujahidin Council (MMI), has been imprisoned since August 2010 up to the time of writing. Umar Patek, a JI follower with ties to Dulmatin, has also been arrested by the police in August 2011.

By combatting terror for one decade, the police has destroyed the power of terror groups in Indonesia. After 2009, radical groups were fragmentated or split. Although there are still many cells that are quite dangerous in terms of ideology, the capacity to undertake radical action is lacking. Since 2009 until now for example there has been not one bomb that exploded in the way or with the effect as prepared or intended after the death of Noordin M. Top[1]. In the period after the death of the JI leader, radical actions on behalf of jihad decreased.

In the last six years, radical attacks have changed their pattern. Acts of radical groups now show a tendency to directly attack police officers. This started with the attack on the police headquarters at Silver Overlay, North Sumatra on September 22, 2010, which was attributed to the network of Noordin M. Top. Another attack was the book bomb launched by Pepi Fernando in mid-March 2011 which exploded in Utan Kayu. The Cirebon bomb attack on April 15, 2011, was attributed to a group called Tawhid wal Jihad. Further attacks on the police occurred in Solo in the last two weeks of August 2012. In September 2012, attacks on the police also occurred in Tambora and Depok. Suicide bombings that have occurred in Poso were attributed by the police to a group led by Santoso. In the same period, bombings were also conducted by radical groups against places of worship including churches, e.g. the attacks on the Beth- el Injil Sepenuh Church in Solo and on the church in Poso.

Another pattern are robberies carried out by radical cells that have been separated from their mother organization. One of these incidents was the CIMB Medan robbery carried out by the network of Noor- din M. Top in April 2010. Another bank robbery ta geting BCA Palu was carried out in Poso by a group led by Santoso. In March 2013, a gold shop robbery occurred in Tambora which was attributed to a group led by Abu Omar. Preemptive police measures in the period between 2014 and 2015 also achieved success. These preventive measures include the prevention of money transfers to terrorist groups led by Santoso. In this regard, two actors were captured. In 2015, 12 people were arrested. In combatting the ISIS network, the police also managed to prevent a bombing in the Alam Sutera Mall and prevented terrorist attacks in the region of Tasikmalaya. In addition, there were also operations in Central Java. Four people were arrested in East Java. Further terrorist acts in Bekasi could be prevented by catching one person. During this period, the police arrested 74 suspected terrorists. A total of 65 people have been indicted. Since the emergence of terrorism about 15 years ago, the police have uncovered 171[2] cases of terrorism.

The terror bombing and shooting attack on police officers that occurred on January 14, 2016 at the police station M.H road intersection with Sari- nah Thamrin, Central Jakarta, was as a special case, although it is within the pattern of attacks against police officers. The police was capable of handling the situation at the location of the scene quickly. In addition, the handling of this bombing involved the deployment of military troops. These terrorist bombings that took place at the central police offices also had a tremendous public impact as they went viral in social media. Many people documented the incident with their smartphone.

Other factors contributed to the efficient handling of bombing by the police. Particularly, Law No. 2 of 2002 on the Police, Article 15 point 1 letter g, states that the police authorities shall be the first to take action on the scene. With regard to the Sarinah Thamrin bombing in Jakarta, it shall therefore be assessed how the police handled these acts of terror- ism. In this paper, the author uses a legal compliance approach to analyze the role of the police force in combating terrorism.


Terrorist attacks are conducted to evoke a feeling of terror among a group of people. Unlike war, acts of terrorism are not subject to the procedures of the war. The time of the attack is always sudden (at least from the perspective of the victims) and the attack targets random victims. According to Petrus Golose, terrorism is any act that is against the law in a vi- olent manner, whether organized or not, involving consequences in the form of physical and/or psycho- logical pain. Terrorist attacks may be categorized as extraordinary crimes or even crimes against humanity.[3]

Indeed, terror is a destructive behavior that violates the law and basic norms of every nation in the world. England defines terrorism in The Prevention of Terrorism Act of 1984 as follows: “Terrorism means the use of violence for political ends and includes any use of violence for the purpose of putting the public or any section of the public in fear.” In the United States (US), different political actors use different definitions of terrorism. The Department of Defense, for example, defines it as “the calculated use of unlawful violence or threat of unlawful violence to inculcate fear; intended to coerce or to intimidate governments or societies in the pursuit of goals that are generally political, religious, or ideological.” Meanwhile, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) defines terrorism as follows: “Terrorism is the unlawful use of force and violence against persons or property to intimidate or coerce a government, the civilian population, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.” The U.S. Department of State defines terrorism as “premeditated politically-motivated violence perpetrated against non-combatant targets by sub-national groups or clandestine agents, usually intended to influence an audience.” The United Nations (UN) in 1992 defined terrorism as: “An anxiety-inspiring method of repeated violent action, employed by (semi-) clandestine individual, group or state actors, for idiosyncratic, criminal or political reasons, whereby – in contrast to assassination – the direct targets of violence are not the main targets.”

Many countries of the world have adopted the U.N. definition of terrorism[4]. In Indonesia, terror- ism is addressed by the Government Regulation No. 1 of 2002 which was later ratified by Law No. 15 of 2003 on Combating Criminal Acts of Terrorism (particularly Articles 6 and 7). In addressing terror- ism Indonesia has not changed the legal definition that has been developed since the early 2000s. But in the government regulation (Perpu) 1, 2002, terror- ism was excluded from the category of crimes com- mitted on political motives.[5]

Thus, regarding the handling of terrorism in Indonesia, it is important to reiterate that terror is a crime that disrupts public order and that is placed under the category of an ‘extraordinary crime’. Due to the fact that this understanding on terrorist acts puts asided any political element of terrorist offenses, these acts are deemed not to interfere with the country’s political stability. When addressing the basic handling of terrorism in Indonesia below, this issue shall be viewed through the theory of criminal justice in accordance with model distinctions and war models. Ronald Crelinsten mentions that distinctions in handling terrorism can be made depending on the state monopoly on the use of force. In democratic countries, the handling of terrorist attacks is usually the task of non-military actors such as the police, with the assistance of other relevant institutions. This is because terrorism is regarded as a criminal act.[6]

Police Strength

Differentiating between war criminal justice models and regular criminal justice models is also in line with the implementation of national defense. In this regard, Art. 7, para. 3 of the Law No. 3 of 2003 on National Defense, states that, in the face of non-military threats the national defense system primarily relies on government agencies outside the defense sector, however, with the support by other state ac- tors according to the scale and nature of the threat.

Thus, in the context of terrorism as an extraordinary crime and against the background of the growth of terrorism, the special police unit Densus 88 AT was formed. A similar development also has occurred in other democratic countries. Many governments establish organizational units functioning as an anti-terrorism police[7]. The formation of the Special Detachment 88 has proved to decrease terrorism to the pockets of radicals. However, there are still followers of radical leaders who are separated from their mother organizations.

After observing the terrorist police in Indonesia for two decades, it can be said that radical cells that had managed to escape prosecution launched terror attacks after 2009. The targeting pattern changed into targeting the police as a form of revenge against the vigorous action by the police. Freda Adler ex- plains that the motive for crime is always based on rational grounds. Rationality refers to the process of information processing and evaluation of alternatives regarding the crimes to be carried out and to making a choice by considering the existing information.[8]

From the viewpoint of social conflict, Pruitt and Rubin (1986) describe that patterns of attacks against police officers can result in a form of conflict spiral. Terrorism continues in an asymmetric way and advances to the stage that the police is targeted. One approach in countering terrorism that was followed throughout the last sixteen years is based on the theory of structural change. With the help of this theory it can be explained that terror committed by hostile radical groups, which oppose the status quo, and resistance by the state can result in a never-ending cycle and create new forms of crimes. The metamorphosis of the forms of crimes takes place along the escalation of the forms of handling the crime. In this regard, the model of structural changes introduced by Jeffrey Z. Rubin helps illustrate that there is a relationship of mutual influence between police response and radical terror.[9]

Terrorism (Party I) may result from differing opinions within the society. Differing views that are not resolved give birth to violence by radicals. As social life is protected by law which is enforced by the security forces, in this case the Police (Party II), it is important to counteract the actions that threaten the security of society. Radical acts of (at times large scale) terror have eventually led to the creation of the special unit Densus 88 AT which continuously takes action to combat all pockets of radicals. The increased preparedness of the police has also resulted in the eradication of terrorist leaders in Indonesia. Although the police managed to arrest and punish terrorist leaders, there are still followers of radical groups. However, the fact that the operations left these followers without a leader has weakened their abilities. Overall, the success of the National Police has created structural changes that affect the pattern of Party I (terrorists), resulting in further refined tar- gets after 2009, namely the police.

The structural change model assumes a circle of escalation, as one of the conflicting parties uses harsh tactics that then may lead to structural changes of the conflict: The other party is encouraged to perform hard tactics as well. The series of tough measures taken by one party is the cause of further escalation. The most important thing in combating terrorism is the ability of the police which, in the public debate, often escapes attention. The Indonesian National Police has progressed very rapidly after the separation of the TNI (Armed Forces) and Indonesia National Police (the abolition of dual function of ABRI-Arm forces) on the basis of the People’s Consultative Assembly Decree No. VI / MPR / 2000. After the separation, the police has been increasingly focusing on providing services to the security sector. At the same time, the military has been increasingly focusing its attention on environmental change and disaster management. Police strength is the strength of the public security that is one of the essentials of statehood. The Sarinah Thamrin bombing incident is an example of a special case and showed that the police force has been enough to anticipate terrorism. An increased police strength can also be seen from the rapid handling of the bombing situation.

Police Response Times

The chronology of the terrorist bombings at the Sarinah Thamrin intersection began at about 10:30 am when the first bomb exploded. Terrorist shooting against traffic police ensued, for about 20 minutes. The bomb’s aftershock lasted a few moments. In a state of uncertainty and panic among the people on the street, the traffic police managed to seal off the scene until 11:15 ampm. Meanwhile the herd of terrorists was seeking to find shelter. At the same time, the Jakarta Metropolitan Police squad led by Com- missioner Krishna Murti was at the scene and pre- paring for a siege. Around 11:45 the shooting began to turn against the terrorists.

These incidents may remind us of the police operation in handling the terror at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, USA. In a Connecticut police documentation, which was published in several US media, it is stated that the Connecticut State Police responded in 0:11:09, from the first citizens’ reports until the police arrived on the scene. The incident was reported via the 911 emergency number. Then, the police mobilized a Police Dog Tracker, a Tactical Unit, a Bomb Squad, and police helicopters. After a firefight, the single terrorist ended up committing suicide. The investigation of the incident was completed on November 25, 2013.

Meanwhile, regarding the Sarinah Thamrin bombing, a joint team of police arrived at the scene after 0:10:15. At around 11:45 ampm the terrorists were surrounded. The joint team was led by the Jakarta Police Chief Inspector General Tito Karnavian. Brigadier General Anang Revandoko lead operations of a Brimob (Paramilitary Police) unit. The operation at the scene lasted for 4 hours. At approximately 2:40 pm, the situation was under control. Thus, Jakarta Governor Basuki Purnama Tja- haja (Mr. Ahok) could conduct an inspection of the scene.

The website of “The Guardian” quoted the Islamic State’s website at 2:44 pm on the day of the incident, citing the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) claiming responsibility for the attack in Sarinah Thamrin, Central Jakarta. Within the following 24 hours, the combined Jakarta Police managed to chase down the places where the terrorists have lived, including their parents’ houses.

Terrorism is only one of the various alternatives that can be chosen by radical groups to pursue their goals. Martha Crenshaw shows that terrorism has a strategic concept based on ideas about the best way to benefit from the existing situation[10]. With a range of possible actions that could be performed by radical groups in the future, the terrorist bombings of Sarinah Thamrin reminds us that the police should be continuously strengthened to be able to effectively combat terror.

Closing remarks

Police success in combatting terrorism has led to more extreme forms of terror (cycle of terrorism). But at the peak of police success in handling terror- ism around the year 2009, the only remaining group of followers with the ability to attack has become smaller. This is because the police has managed to arrest and prosecute the leaders of the radical group Jemaah Islamiyah (JI).

Terror attacks targeting police officers are evidence of a terrorist strategy to assess the strength of the security forces. The Sarinah Thamrin terror bombing near the National Palace demonstrates an advanced strategy of terrorist groups in the cycle of terror. Although the police can successfully handle bomb threats like the one at Sarinah Thamrin, according to the theory of the conflict cycle, there is the possibility of further attacks launched by radical groups.

In response to this problem, it is important for the government  to  continue  to  support  the  prevention of terrorism carried out by the Police. In the case of terrorism in Indonesia and with regard to the development of world terrorism, the task of countering the influence of radical groups from outside the country is recognized as a military task and a main component of the country’s defense. At the same time, the handling of terrorism with- in the country has been done by the police, especially by Densus 88 AT for the last sixteen years.

[1] Media interviews Voice Of America (VOA) with Sidney Jones on December 7, 2015, quoted from http://www. jones-seputar-isis-dan-ancaman-teror-di-indonesia/ 3092052. html, accessed on Tuesday, February 9, 2016.

[2] “Police Bust Claims 9 Terrorism Last Year”, quoted from 731640/ polri-klaim-gagalkan-9-aksi-teror-setahun-terakhir, accessed on Tuesday, February 9, 2016.

[3] See R. Petrus Golose, Deradicalisation Terrorism, Humanist, and Touching the Soul Grassroots Approach, Jakarta: Police Science Foundation for Development Studies, 2nd ed., 2010, p. 6.

[4] See terrorism definitions on http://www.terrorism-research. com/, accessed on Tuesday, February 9, 2016.

[5] See Article 5 of the Government Regulation No. 1 of 2002 which states that criminal acts of terrorism which are stipulated in the Government Regulation in lieu of law are excluded from political crimes, crimes related to political crimes, criminal acts with political motives, and criminal acts with a political purpose or which hinder the extradition process.

[6] Ronald Crelinsten, Counterterrorism, Cambridge: Polity Press, 2009.

[7] Ibid.

[8] See Fread Adler et al. Criminology. USA: McGraw-Hill, 1991, pp. 203-204.

[9] See Dean G. Pruitt and Jeffrey Z. Rubin, Social Conflict: Escalation, Stalemate and Settlement, New York: Random House, 1986.

[10] See Martha Crenshaw, “The Logic of Terrorism As A Result Strategic Choice”, in Walter Laqueur (ed), Origins of Terrorism: Review of Psychology, Ideology, Theology, and Attitude, Jakarta: PT Raja Grafindo Persada, 2006, p. 26.