Jakarta attack highlights jostle to lead Islamic State in Southeast Asia
Bodies lay next to a police traffic box during a gun and bomb attack in central Jakarta - REUTERS

JAKARTA – Last week’s attack on Jakarta showed for the first time that Islamic State violence has arrived in Indonesia, but security experts believe the radical group’s footprint is still light here because militants are jostling to be its regional leader.

Police have identified Bahrun Naim, an Indonesian based in Syria, as the mastermind of the blitz of bombings and gunfire that left all five attackers and two civilians dead on Thursday.

But perhaps the region’s most influential jihadi is a jailed cleric, Aman Abdurrahman, who with just a few couriers and cell phones is able to command around 200 followers from behind bars.

He sits at the head of Jamaah Ansharut Daulah, an umbrella organization formed last year through an alliance of splinter groups that security experts believe could become the unifying force for Islamic State supporters.

“They want to internalize the conflicts in Indonesia so they can bring more people from the outside,” said Rakyan Adibrata, a Jakarta-based terrorism expert who advises parliament, referring to the militants who have joined forces under one banner.

“Just like Syria, you need to create a conflict zone very big that can be a magnet for all jihadi to come across the world to Indonesia to wage war. That’s their main objective.”

Police believe that Naim, himself an Abdurrahman supporter, was trying to prove his leadership skills to Islamic State’s leaders in Syria by plotting the Jakarta attack.

“In order to get the credit from ISIS, he needs to prove his leadership capabilities,” Jakarta police chief Tito Karnavian said, using a common acronym for the Syria-based group.

He said Naim’s vision was to unite the now-splintered groups across Southeast Asia, including Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines, that support Islamic State.

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