Indonesian police ramp up suspect search after stabbing attack on security minister

Indonesian police ramp up suspect search after stabbing attack on security minister

Wiranto, a 72-year-old former army chief, was stabbed twice in the stomach as he left his vehicle in
Wiranto, a 72-year-old former army chief, was stabbed twice in the stomach as he left his vehicle in Pandeglang AFP/Ronald Siagian

JAKARTA: Indonesian police were searching for more suspects on Friday (Oct 11) after two militants from an Islamic State-linked terror group stabbed the chief security minister, as the politician recovered in hospital following emergency surgery.

Wiranto, a 72-year-old former army chief, was stabbed twice in the stomach as he left his vehicle in Pandeglang on Java island on Thursday.

The assassination attempt comes shortly before President Joko Widodo is due to be sworn in for a second term on Oct 20.

Luhut Pandjaitan, the coordinating minister overseeing maritime and natural resources, told reporters on Friday that the attack would not have an impact on the inauguration.

Indonesia, the world’s biggest Muslim-majority country, is grappling with a resurgence in militancy and hundreds of suspects have been detained under tighter new anti-terrorism laws since the beginning of 2019.

Wiranto was the first senior politician to be attacked in recent years and the president said he should be the last.

"Even when we already have security measures in place, they should be tightened so that what happened to Wiranto won't happen again," Widodo told reporters at the hospital after visiting the minister.

"He is getting better, he was able to communicate with me," Widodo said, adding that the security minister had asked to take part in government meetings.

Indonesia's President Joko Widodo talks during a news conference at Gatot Subroto military hos
Indonesia's President Joko Widodo talks during a news conference at Gatot Subroto military hospital in Jakarta, Indonesia, October 10, 2019. REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan

Presidential chief of staff Moeldoko, who goes by one name, told AFP that Wiranto "could talk but still looked weak", adding that he remains in intensive care.

Neighbouring Singapore has condemned the "senseless terrorist attack".

"ALARM BELLS"

A local police chief and two aides also suffered knife wounds in Thursday's attack but authorities said they had non-life-threatening injuries.

A 31-year-old man and a 21-year-old woman, reportedly a married couple, were arrested at the scene in Pandeglang.

They were later identified as members of Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD), an extremist organisation loyal to IS that was responsible for several previous attacks, including deadly suicide bombings at churches in Indonesia's second-biggest city Surabaya last year.

The male suspect had reportedly been under surveillance by the intelligence agency in Indonesia, which has long struggled with extremist Islamist groups.

Indonesia's Chief Security Minister Wiranto is pictured as he being attacked during his visit
Indonesia's Chief Security Minister Wiranto was attacked during his visit in Pandeglang, Banten province, Indonesia, on October 10, 2019. Antara Foto/ via REUTERS

Indonesian police and military carry Indonesia's Security Minister Wiranto to a helicopter
Indonesian police and military carry Indonesia's Security Minister Wiranto to a helicopter. (Photo: AFP/Sammy)

On Thursday, Widodo ordered the national police and intelligence agency chiefs to pursue other suspects in the attack and the extremist network allegedly behind it.

Thursday's incident is thought to be the first known assassination attempt by JAD on an Indonesian politician.

The government scrambled to tighten its anti-terrorism laws after a series of suicide bombings linked to the JAD group killed more than 30 people in the city of Surabaya last year.

Police spokesman Dedi Prasetyo said on Friday that the suspects, Syahrial Alamsyah and his wife, had planned the attack after eight members of JAD were captured on Sep 23.

Their main targets were government officials and police officers, Prasetyo told a briefing.

Since the attack, Indonesia's anti-terrorism unit, Densus 88, had rounded up more suspects affiliated with JAD in Bandung in West Java, in Bali and in Manado on Sulawesi island, he said.

Ridwan Habib, a terrorism researcher at the University of Indonesia, said: "An attack like this should set off alarm bells for security personnel to increase their caution."

ASSASSINATION PLOT

Wiranto, the retired chief of the armed forces and a failed presidential candidate, was appointed to his post in 2016 and oversees several departments, including the foreign affairs and defence ministries.

His appointment drew criticism from rights groups for his involvement as chief of the armed forces in the bloody upheaval surrounding East Timor's 1999 independence vote, when about 1,000 people were killed.

Wiranto was indicted by a UN panel over the bloodshed but denied any wrongdoing.

Wiranto, who was stabbed twice in the stomach, remains in hospital following surgery
Wiranto, who was stabbed twice in the stomach, remains in hospital following surgery AFP/ADEK BERRY

As a retired general, he is considered a product of the late former strongman Suharto’s “New Order” administration, which gave a big political role to the military and stifled opponents.

In May, police said Wiranto and three other top officials were targeted in a failed assassination plot linked to deadly riots in Jakarta after Widodo's re-election victory.

A group of six people - arrested before they could carry out the killings - hoped the killings would plunge the country into chaos, police said at the time.

Source: Agencies/CNA/jt

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