World News

Four Swordsmen Attack Police in Indonesia Amid a Siege of Violence

Posted May 16, 2018 11:32 a.m. EDT

JAKARTA, Indonesia — In the latest of a wave of apparent terrorist attacks in Indonesia, four sword-wielding men were shot dead Wednesday after ramming a car into a security checkpoint at a provincial police headquarters on the island of Sumatra and attacking officers, police said.

One police officer died in a hospital after being hit by the vehicle, while two others suffered cuts in the attack, which happened shortly after 9 a.m. in Pekanbaru, the capital of Riau province in central Sumatra, Inspector General Setyo Wasisto, a spokesman for the national police, told reporters.

“When entering, their car was blocked by Riau police officers. They then got out of the car and attacked the police guards using long swords,” he said.

An Indonesian news reporter who happened to be on the scene was also hurt.

A fifth person in the attackers’ car drove off, hitting the police officer who later died, before eventually being captured by pursuing officers.

The attack in Sumatra followed a string of bombings halfway across the sprawling country, in East Java province, where a family of six suicide bombers including children attacked three churches in the provincial capital, Surabaya, on Sunday, killing 12 people and themselves.

On Sunday night, a woman and one of her children were killed in a bomb explosion inside their home in a suburb of Surabaya as the police moved in to make arrests. The father was shot dead by police.

On Monday, a family of five riding on two motorcycles, who the police say were part of the same terrorist group, detonated an explosive at the entrance of Surabaya Police Headquarters, injuring several officers who were standing guard. The only survivor among the family was an 8-year-old girl, who was taken to a hospital.

Investigators believe the families in the attacks Sunday and Monday were all part of the same cell of Jamaah Ansharut Daulah, an Indonesian terrorist group that has declared loyalty to the Islamic State group.

The police Wednesday said they were not yet sure whether the attackers at the police headquarters in Sumatra were also linked to Jamaah Ansharut Daulah or to the Islamic State. Later Wednesday, the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement carried by its media outlet, Amaq.

The Islamic State has also claimed responsibility for the Surabaya attacks, and for a riot that took place in a police detention center outside Jakarta several days before the bombings began. Terrorism suspects and convicts being held there, most of whom were linked to the Islamic State, staged a two-day uprising, seizing weapons and hostages and killing five guards before eventually surrendering. One inmate also died after being shot by guards.

Indonesian police said they were continuing to arrest members of Jamaah Ansharut Daulah. Tito Karnavian, the national police chief, said Wednesday that counterterrorism forces had detained the head of the group’s East Java wing. The suspect, Samsul Arif, was arrested with his wife in the East Java town of Singosari.

In West Java, in the city of Tangerang just outside of Jakarta, police raided three sites and arrested four people who they said had been training recruits in terror tactics for Jamaah Ansharut Daulah, according to Indonesian news reports. The reports said police had confiscated an Islamic State flag and a handbook on terrorist operations.

The U.S. Embassy issued a nationwide security alert Wednesday, advising Americans to review their security plans, avoid crowds and demonstrations and keep a low profile.

“Police continue to conduct aggressive operations against terrorists, including in the days leading up to and including Ramadan,” the alert said. Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation, begins observing the holy month of Ramadan on Thursday.

Indonesia has suffered numerous attacks by domestic terrorists since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States, including bombings on the resort island of Bali in 2002 and 2005, hotel bombings in Jakarta in 2003 and 2009, and an attack on a police post in central Jakarta in 2016.

The attackers were either linked to al-Qaida or the Islamic State, authorities said.

In recent years, the police and Indonesia’s minority Christian population have been prime targets for terrorists here.

Indonesia’s counterterrorism police force, known as Detachment 88, has been fully deployed in the wake of the recent attacks. On Tuesday evening, the police raided a densely populated neighborhood in Surabaya, Indonesia’s second-largest city, while searching for the brother of Anton Ferdiantono, the suspected militant who officials say accidentally detonated an explosive device in his apartment Sunday night, killing his wife and one of their children. Three other children survived.

During the police operation, there was about an hour of gunfire and other activity related to the raid in the working-class neighborhood. Surabaya Mayor Tri Rismaharini, who came to the scene, said that counterterrorism police had shot dead Dedi Sulistiantono, the younger brother of Ferdiantono.

Earlier, a police spokesman in East Java, Frans Barung Mangera, said that the suspect had fought back, which was why Detachment 88 “had to take firm action.” Rismaharini said that Sulistiantono’s wife and four children had been taken into custody.

In the family’s Surabaya neighborhood, a warren of rented rooms and small eateries, neighbors described Sulistiantono as religious and reserved. He did not, for instance, attend the mosque just down the street from the rented room where he lived with his family, they said.

“We never interacted with him,” said Hengki Firmansyah, a neighborhood administrative official. “He never spoke with us. He has his own congregation that we were not part of.”

Sulistiantono’s wife, however, did not wear the niqab, a conservative Muslim veil that covers all of the head and face save for the eyes. She instead wore a hijab, a face-baring veil that is common in Indonesia. Their children did not attend public school, and their youngest child, the boy, only went to evening Quran classes.

At around 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, police pushed back a crowd that had gathered at the alley where Sulistiantono lived, because they said they would be “detonating a bomb found inside the house.”

Minutes later, an explosion resounded.