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Jakarta Attack Raises Fears of Jihad in Asia

  • Shannon Van Sant

Indonesian soldiers man armored vehicles as they guard near the site where an attack occurred in Jakarta, Jan. 14, 2016.

Indonesian soldiers man armored vehicles as they guard near the site where an attack occurred in Jakarta, Jan. 14, 2016.

Thursday's terrorist attacks in Jakarta have raised concern throughout Asia that the Islamic State group is attempting to create a caliphate in Indonesia, which has the largest Muslim population in the world.

The attack in the capital killed two people along with five attackers, and prompted Indonesian authorities to call for cooperation with countries throughout Asia in the fight against Islamic extremism.

It also follows the arrests in December of 13 men across the island of Java, including one Chinese Muslim Uighur with a suicide bomber vest. Indonesian authorities believe increasing numbers of Chinese are traveling to the country to wage jihad.

Route for militants

Biveer Singh of the Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore said Indonesia may be an increasingly popular transit route for militants seeking to join IS.

An elementary school student holds a placard reading "Students are not afraid" at a small anti-terrorism rally in central Jakarta a day after a gun and bomb attack in the city, Jan. 15, 2016.

An elementary school student holds a placard reading "Students are not afraid" at a small anti-terrorism rally in central Jakarta a day after a gun and bomb attack in the city, Jan. 15, 2016.

“Most of them are actually en route, either on the way to Syria and Iraq, and on the way back to Southeast Asia, or as some reports indicate, after having come back from Syria and Iraq, on the way back, then go to Southeast Asia," Singh said.

The Chinese Uighur man was arrested December 23 in a house just outside of Jakarta. Authorities believe that he, and many others, are answering a call by Santoso, who lives in the jungles of eastern Indonesia, to fight for the Islamic State group.

Todd Elliott, a terrorism analyst at Concord Consulting in Jakarta, says IS propaganda may be prompting Uighurs to leave China’s westernmost province of Xinjiang.

“The spread of ISIS’s propaganda, Xinjiang is not immune to that. I think that is also prompting some Uighurs from that region to seek other countries for jihad," Elliott said.

Chinese crackdown

Protests and violence have killed hundreds over the past few years in Xinjiang, and many say religious repression and cultural genocide are inspiring Uighurs to leave China. Beijing has cracked down on the region in what it has called an attempt to root out terrorism.

A police armored vehicle is parked outside a Starbucks cafe after an explosion in Jakarta, Indonesia, Jan. 14, 2016.

A police armored vehicle is parked outside a Starbucks cafe after an explosion in Jakarta, Indonesia, Jan. 14, 2016.

But some say it is a veiled effort to forcibly repress and assimilate the Uighur ethnic minority.

This week’s attacks in Jakarta, and the arrest of a Chinese Uighur there last month, will likely bolster China’s claim that the threat of terrorism within the mainland and abroad is growing.

Wang Dong, a professor of International Relations at Peking University, said this shared threat will improve ties between China and Indonesia.

“This is actually an indication of really cooperation between China and Indonesia on terrorism, and also because China and Indonesia share the concern of the threat of terrorism," Wang said.

Indonesia has been the target of several terrorist attacks, most notably the 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202 people; mostly foreign tourists.

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