A small band of terrorists causes chaos in downtown Jakarta

GlobalPost
A police armored personnel carrier is seen parked near the scene of an attack in central Jakarta on Jan. 14, 2016.

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NEED TO KNOW:

The people of Indonesia are the latest victims of a terrorist attack.

Explosions and gunfire erupted in central Jakarta on Thursday morning local time, just after most residents had settled into their work day. Most remained confined to offices and homes for much of the afternoon.

Indonesia has more Twitter and Facebook users than most other countries, so the news spread quickly on social media. Fear and rumors caused widespread confusion. Reports of multiple bombings across the city and mass shootings ultimately proved to be untrue.

In the end the attack was unimpressive in its scale. A handful of terrorists threw grenades and shot up a busy main thoroughfare before being killed by police. Nearby was a UN building and a shopping center with a Starbucks and a Burger King. The main target at first appeared to be a small police kiosk. Two civilians were killed. At least five suspected terrorists were killed. Details continue to emerge as night falls across the city.

But while the assault was small compared to similar attacks in Paris, San Bernardino, Ankara, Istanbul, Beirut, Baghdad and so many other cities around the world, it succeeded in what is always the primary goal of terror attacks: to sow fear.

WANT TO KNOW:

Indonesia is a huge country. There are 250 million Indonesians, making it the fourth-largest country by population in the world. All those people are spread across thousands of islands that make up a sprawling archipelago.

Some 200 million of those Indonesians are Muslim. Indonesia is also a secular democracy, though like most everywhere else in the world secularism and democracy are both regularly tested there by conservative religious groups, corruption and so much else. Jakarta itself is a major cosmopolitan city with a nightlife that easily rivals Berlin or New York.

The last time terrorists struck Indonesia in a major way was in 2009, when coordinated bombings targeted two major hotels in downtown Jakarta. The country’s worst terrorist attack was in 2002, when suicide bombers attacked a nightclub in Bali and killed 202 people. Ever since then Indonesian authorities, with the help of Australian and American intelligence agencies, have diligently tracked and dismantled local and international terrorist groups operating in the country. Jemaah Islamiyah, which carried out the attacks in Bali and was once a feared menace, is these days a shadow of its formal self.

The degree to which the Islamic State has taken root in Indonesia is up for debate. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for Thursday’s attack. But whether it was inspired by the Islamic State or organized by the group is unknown — and those are two very different things.

Either way, the terror group has not had an easy time recruiting in Indonesia. Comparatively few Indonesians have made their way to Syria. Most Indonesians despise the Islamic State, according to a Pew survey. Terrorists are commonly mocked in Indonesian media. The Indonesian government, for its part, has largely refrained from involving itself in the current conflicts in Iraq and Syria.

STRANGE BUT TRUE:

Indonesians are resilient, to put it mildly. They have endured numerous devastating natural disasters, including the 2004 earthquake and tsunami that killed more than 170,000 people in Indonesia alone. Bali, a major tourist destination, has rebounded from terrorist attacks twice.

The response to Thursday’s tragedy will likely be the same. Doing what they do best, Indonesians took to social media using the hashtag #KamiTidakTakut, which means “We are not afraid.” And in perhaps the greatest example of the Indonesian spirit, and their enduring love of their food, street-side food vendors were up and running nearby the attack the minute the gunfire appeared to be over.