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Indonesia Suicide Bombing Fits New Pattern of Attacking Local Targets

An armed police officer stands guard near an armored vehicle outside a local police office after a bomb went off in Cirebon, West Java, Indonesia, April 14, 2011

Security analysts in Indonesia say a suicide bombing at a police mosque that killed the bomber and wounded 26 people is part of a new terrorist strategy. Rather than attacking Westerners in hotels and embassies, they say, smaller groups of Islamic extremists have begun targeting police and Indonesians who speak out against religious fundamentalism.

Terrorism analyst Sidney Jones, with the International Crisis Group in Jakarta, says Friday's suicide bombing targeting Indonesian police in the west Java town, Cirebon, fits a recent pattern of small terrorist attacks against Indonesian targets.

"One of the things that shifted over the last two years or so is much more of an emphasis on local targets and the police are number one, particularly since the break up of the militant training camp in Aceh in February, 2010, where the police arrested more than 100 people, killed about 24, 25, in the course of trying to arrest them. And, I think that series of events, more more than anything else, just catapulted the police to the top of the enemies list," said Jones.

She says intelligence officials have learned that the terrorist training camp discovered in 2010 in the northwestern Sumatra province, Aceh, was being used to promote jihad against local officials who oppose Sharia law in Indonesia, including President Suslio Bambang Yuhoyono.

Before Friday's suicide bombing, a number of crude bombs were sent as mail parcels to people in the Jakarta area, including a liberal Muslim figure who espouses pluralism and a former top counter-terrorism police official. Most of the bombs were successfully defused and only a few people were wounded.

Police are still investigating who was involved in Friday's suicide bombing and the earlier mail bombings. Jones says finding out who taught these new groups how to make crude bombs could connect the attacks to a single radical influence.

"If we look back at some of the other small groups that have emerged, even though they have been independent in some ways of the larger organizations, all of them have found someone with experience in a past operation who have been willing to teach them how to make bombs," she said. "In one case someone was self taught over the Internet, but the group itself became radicalized by attending lectures of somebody who is now in prison."

Indonesia is a secular state with the world’s largest Muslim population. In the past, large Islamic terrorist groups focused attacks on Westerners in large hotels and embassies. The last major terrorist attack occurred in July of 2009, when two suicide bombers killed nine people at Jakarta’s J.W. Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels.