Indonesian family terror attacks lead to calls for new strategies

Indonesian family terror attacks lead to calls for new strategies


When most people picture terrorists, they think of a group of hardened fanatics or, perhaps, a single individual plotting an attack. What they don’t envision is a family.

Authorities in Southeast Asia, however, are warning of exactly that. Families, including children, are conducting terror attacks together.

One horrific example of this occurred in Surabaya, Indonesia, on May 13, 2018, when a family of six carried out an attack that left 13 people dead and 40 injured. It was the deadliest terror attack in Indonesia since 2005.

The killing began when a father, Dita Oepriarto, drove his wife and two daughters, ages 9 and 12, to a church where the wife and daughters detonated a bomb, CNN reported. Oepriarto then drove to a Pentecostal church and set off a second bomb. At about the same time, his two teenage sons, ages 16 and 18, drove motorcycles into a Catholic church, where they detonated explosives. All six family members died.

The next day, a family of five on motorbikes carried out an attack on nearby police headquarters for a total of four bombings in two days by two families. Four members of the family died, and the fifth, an 8-year-old girl, was injured, along with 10 other people. (Pictured: Anti-terror policemen patrol the street after a bomb blast at a police office in Surabaya, Indonesia, in May 2018).

Analysts said the attacks were shocking but should have been expected.

“These attacks are the nightmare scenario that’s been anticipated since Indonesians affiliated with ISIS (Islamic State of Syria and Iraq) have returned from the Middle East,” Greg Barton, chairman in Global Islamic Politics at Deakin University in Australia, told CNN.

Although few details about the families’ motives’ have been publicized, authorities believe that Oepriarto had ties to an ISIS-linked terror group active in Indonesia known as Jamaah Ansharut Daulah. He also reportedly studied with a radical preacher who tried, but failed, to travel to Syria. About 700 Indonesians have left to fight in Syria, according to the Indonesian government.

Barton warned that such attacks could be the “opening salvo of a new, more sophisticated campaign” in the country as extremists return home.

These attacks in Indonesia in which entire families kill in the name of radical ideology are drawing the attention of scholars and authorities who are scrambling to understand the phenomenon and looking for ways to stop it.

In an article written for National Public Radio, Sidney Jones, director of the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict in Jakarta, said there are several ways to understand family terror attacks. They may be a result of ISIS losing territory in the Middle East and looking to pull off shocking attacks in other parts of the world to attract media attention. Family attacks may also be a strategic move since women and children draw less suspicion from authorities. The attacks may also be a byproduct of more women being radicalized and being willing to use children as suicide bombers.

Jones said the new ISIS strategy requires a new approach.

“The Surabaya bombings may be a one-off horror, and we may not see family suicide bombers again anytime soon,” she wrote. “But they could also be a useful wake-up call to seriously evaluate existing programs to make them more effective by involving whole families.”

According to Jones, Indonesia needs more deradicalization programs focused on the family unit. This means reaching out to the wives and children of men already imprisoned for extremist acts. Officials also need to target schools and other institutions teaching radical ideology and craft persuasive counterarguments to the hate-filled rhetoric. Although programs exist, Jones wrote, they tend to be generic and do not target all venues where radical ideology is taught.

Jones called for a special focus on women who may be radicalized. She pointed out that as many as half of those deported from Turkey to Indonesia after trying to join ISIS are women. Indonesia needs long-term mentoring and de-radicalization programs aimed at them, she said. Currently, the women are sent to a shelter for two to four weeks, then sent home.

The Surabaya attacks shocked the nation, but Indonesia must now try to understand why they happened, Jones said.

“There is no reason to believe that the perversion that led to this group being ready to die has extended to other ISIS sympathizers … or that other families will attempt similar actions,” Jones wrote. “But it is worth reflecting on why the parents may have decided to act.”