An improvised explosive device — apparently in a mini-van — was detonated near the Australian Embassy in Jakarta on Sept. 9, killing at least eight people, wounding more than 100 and doing extensive damage to the area near the embassy compound. Counterterrorism sources in Washington believe the attack was the work of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI). In addition, the Jakarta police chief believes the bomb at the embassy closely resembles those used by JI in the past.
The bombing is the latest in a series of attacks that JI seems to conduct at about the same time each year. On Aug. 5, 2003, 12 people were killed and 150 injured when an improvised explosive device in a vehicle detonated at the J.W. Marriott Hotel in Jakarta. On Oct. 12, 2002, suicide bombers detonated a series of bombs in the Kuta district of Bali, killing more than 200 people.
The one-year time lapse seen between JI bombings suggests (http://web2.stratfor.com/JI.neo) operational limitations in planning and preparation. The arrests of several key JI leaders — Huda bin Abdul Haq, also known as “Mukhlas,” has been sentenced to death and Ali Imron sentenced to life in prison for the Bali attack — have also likely diminished the capabilities of the organization, perhaps to the extent that it was unable to carry out attacks. However, the embassy attack reaffirms JI as a capable militant force. While the deadliness of attacks has steadily decreased over the past two years the latest attack — against a hard target with massive collateral damage — is still very large in its scope and impact.
As STRATFOR has reported, many pro-jihadist Web sites claimed attacks would occur between Aug. 25 and Sept. 10. If this warning is valid, it could simply indicate JI was saving its limited resources to attack during this period in support of the greater cause. The attack would then also be indicative of the continuing affiliation JI holds with other militant Islamist groups worldwide — including al Qaeda.
On Sept. 3, there were warnings from the U.S. and Australian embassies in Jakarta indicating that intelligence suggesting an attack against Western interests in Indonesia — especially soft targets such as hotels — was close at hand. State Department sources confirm that the warnings related to a charity ball the Australian Embassy planned to hold at the J.W. Marriott Hotel on Sept. 4. After the warnings were issued, the ball was moved onto embassy grounds to allow for tightened security. Just as JI changed its attack date in the Bali bombing, it is likely that the target of the attack was then changed to the Australian Embassy — this would get attention in Canberra — and the date was pushed back to allow for the security situation to loosen in the area. In the days after the warnings were issued, security was heavily increased around hotels, as well as embassies in the area. However, once the period of perceived threat had passed, security was likely reduced, creating the opportunity for a militant strike.
Although the bombing did not cause serious damage to the embassy compound, surrounding buildings — the compound is located in a neighborhood of embassies, shopping areas and high-rises — were seriously damaged due to the explosive force. In addition, no casualties occurred inside the embassy; some of the dead and injured were security personnel on guard outside the embassy, while others were pedestrians and passengers in cars and buses in close proximity to the blast.
The high level of security at hard target locations such as the embassy has created a difficult situation for the soft targets, such as the shops, restaurants, offices and other facilities in the area of the Jakarta blast. Security measures implemented to protect hard targets are nearly impossible to implement to protect soft targets for any extended time period. Security designed not to allow attackers close access to a hardened target virtually force soft targets to take the brunt of an impact from an attack. While the threat to hard targets is certainly high, soft targets in their vicinity can be at greater risk and face potentially higher casualty counts.