Surabaya bomber Dita Oepriarto - how he became a father of death

Surabaya bomber Dita Oepriarto - how he became a father of death

Surabaya family
Suicide bomber Dita Oepriarto and members of his family. (Photo: East Java Police HQ)

SURABAYA:  On May 13, two brothers, Evan Hudojo, 11, and Ethan Hudojo, 8, got out of their car at the entrance of the Santa Maria Catholic Church in Surabaya, Indonesia’s second largest city.

At that moment, two brothers, Firman Halim, 16, and Yusof Fadhil, 18, sped towards the church on a motorcycle and detonated explosives that they were carrying.

The boys from two separate worlds collided at the entrance of the Santa Maria Catholic church at 7.30am local time, in the attack that killed all four boys and four other church members.

Two pairs of brothers, two different goals. One pair was on the way to pray, the other pair is believed to have been told by their father, Dita Oepriarto, they were on the way to heaven.


"Before the suicide bombings, the father would have told his wife and children that they would meet again in heaven," former Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) bomb-maker Ali Fauzi Manzi, told Channel NewsAsia. "That is their belief, that is their ideology."

But the younger of the sons, Firman, was apparently an unwilling party to the suicide bombings.

Just hours before the blast, a security guard saw Firman crying inconsolably in a mosque during dawn prayers.

“I feel, I believe, he didn’t want to do it (die as a suicide bomber). This is not right, to drag children into this,” security guard Hery told Channel NewsAsia in an earlier interview.

Five minutes after his sons detonated their bombs, Dita drove a bomb-laden car to the Surabaya Centre Pentecostal Church and set off explosives. Shortly after that, his wife Puji Kuswati, 42, and her two daughters, Fadhila Sari, 12, and Famela Rizqita, nine, carried out a bomb attack on Diponegoro Indonesian Christian Church.

The family of six was killed in the space of 10 minutes. It marked a first for Indonesia and the world to have an entire family blow themselves up in suicide bombings.


In the leafy, middle-class neighbourhood of Rungkut where Dita lived, his neighbours were shocked. Dita was a successful distributor of olive and candlenut oils who did not want for anything.

"In fact, many of his customers were Chinese and non-Muslims," said his 46-year-old neighbour Wery Tri Kusuma.

Dita Oepriarto's neighbour Surabaya bombing 2018
Wery Tri Kusuma, a neighbour of Surabaya bomber Dita Oepriarto. (Photo: Amy Chew)

"Dita came from a family of means and he was successful himself too. His wife came from a rich family," said Wery. "He never once spoke about religion or politics with me." 

"Dita and his sons prayed frequently in the mosque but not once did he ever invite me to go to the mosque with him," Wery added.

He described Dita's children as "very well-behaved and polite".

Behind this veneer of normalcy, the truth was far more chilling.

Indonesian police chief Tito Karnavian said Dita was a member of the pro-Islamic State (IS) Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD) and headed the Surabaya branch. He is believed to have learnt how to make bombs via the Internet.

Former JI member Ali met Dita once and knows members of his inner circle in JAD.

“The radicalisation of Dita to the point where his entire family was sacrificed as suicide bombers was a long process. It started when he was in high school,” Ali told Channel NewsAsia from his office in the village of Tenggulun, Lamongan, a two-hour drive from Surabaya.

"He was friends with, and lived in an environment of extremists and radicals, and hence became a radical himself.”

Ali speaks with unique insights. He is the younger brother of Bali bombers Amrozi and Mukhlas, who were both executed for their role in the 2002 terror attack that killed 202 people. 

Ali himself was a member of JI but left the regional terror group following his brothers' execution.

In 2016, Ali set up a non-government organisation, the Circle of Peace, where he counsels terror convicts and finds jobs for them when they are released from prison to reduce the likelihood of them returning to their old life.

"The indoctrination of his wife and family would have been a long process too. I am sure there was an agreement between him, his wife and children that they would carry out the suicide bombings together," said Ali.

In an earlier interview with Channel NewsAsia, counter-terrorism expert Noor Huda Ismail said in a patriarchal society like Indonesia, it is very difficult for a child to escape their father's influence.

“In this case, it is very clear the father, Dita, is very radical and his wife was influenced by him to go along with him with his suicide bombings. This makes the child very helpless as there is no one to protect them,” said Huda.

Ali Fauzi Manzi
Ali Fauzi Manzi at his office Peace Circle Initiative in Lamongan, East Java. The graves of his two executed Bali bomber brothers are some 300 metres away from his office. (Photo: Amy Chew)

Ali Fauzi koran
Ali Fauzi reading the Quran at his office, Peace Circle Initiative, in Lamongan, East Java. (Photo: Amy Chew)


Nasir Abas, a former JI leader, told Channel NewsAsia the militants subscribe to the doctrine that it is better to die than to live in secular, democratic Indonesia.

“Life is honourable in a country that implements Syariah law. Life is a humiliation if one lives in an infidel state. Therefore it is better to die than to live a life of humiliation,” Nasir told Channel NewsAsia.

Nasir believes this doctrine is a major reason Dita and his entire family died as suicide bombers.

“This is a doctrine of all militant groups that fight for an Islamic state including JAD, IS, JI, Indonesia Islamic State (NII) ... and this is dangerous,” said Nasir.

“I used to subscribe to this belief myself but not anymore. I reject it. I read many books and discussed this with many Islamic figures in Indonesia. I realised Prophet Muhamad did not have a mission to set up an Islamic state,"  said Nasir.

The NII was first established in 1949 and the group proclaimed Syariah law to be the source of its legal framework. According to Nasir, though NII leaders have been arrested through the years, the organisation continues to exist through new groups that have emerged. 

According to a senior counter-terrorism official, JAD is a new version of NII.

"JAD is NII dressed in new clothes," a senior counter-terrorism official told Channel NewsAsia.


Both Ali and the police believe Dita’s mind was shaped by JAD which was founded by Aman Abdurrahman, Indonesia’s foremost Islamic State (IS) ideologue.

“Dita and his friends would meet in homes to hold discussions, study groups. They never met in mosques as it belongs to the government and therefore views them as deviant," said Ali.

The senior counter-terrorism official told Channel NewsAsia JAD’s founder, Aman, was highly influential in Dita’s life.

“Dita visited Aman Abdurrahman in prison several times and followed his sermons closely,” said the counter-terrorism official.

Aman is currently on trial for his role in 2016 terror attack on Jalan Thamrin, Jakarta, where he faces the death penalty if found guilty.

For JAD members, they regard Indonesian police and the government as  “Satan".

“This is a group that truly wants to destroy and crush Indonesia. They will then build an Islamic state like the one in Syria to replace it,” said Ali.


According to Ali, there will be more attacks as there are scores of radicalised individuals who want to be suicide bombers.

"Corresponding with the difficulties in making a living, people are constantly planted with the ideology of hatred against the government, the police," he said.

"The only thing is this - there are not many bomb-makers out there."

May was a deadly month for Indonesia, with terror attacks in the cities of Jakarta, Surabaya and Riau. The holy month of Ramadan is typically a time of renewed militancy among extremists.

At least 49 Indonesians - 12 civilians, seven police officers and 30 terrorists - have died in back-to-back attacks by IS supporters or in government anti-terrorism operations, according to Sidney Jones, director of the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict in Jakarta. From May 13 to 20, counter-terrorism police arrested 74 terror suspects.

In Surabaya, there was a second attack on police stations carried out by a family of five the day after Dita's family attacked the churches.

In the wake of the recent attacks, there was the passing on Friday of a new law that will gives Indonesian police more power to take pre-emptive action against terror suspects.

Police will now be allowed to detain terror suspects for as long as 21 days, up from the current one week, and they will now also be able to charge people for joining or recruiting for a terrorist organisation, at home or abroad.


However, as Indonesia counter-terrorism police race to arrest wanted terror suspects and to foil bomb plots and terror attacks, segments of society are dismissing the tragic bombings as operations deliberately carried out to divert the public's attention away from issues facing the Indonesian government.

“The biggest challenge that Indonesia faces right now is that many seem to think the bombings are an intelligence operation, something which is engineered rather than a real terror attack," said Ali.

“This is particularly prevalent in the academic world, in universities, amongst university lecturers, students. They don't seem to realise that terrorists do exist, that they are trained in bomb-making, how to use weapons in Afghanistan and Mindanao (southern Philippines). I myself trained in Afghanistan and I later taught people how to assemble bombs in Mindanao," said Ali.

On May 18, police detained a man with the initials AAD for posting on social media: "In Indonesia, there is no terrorism, it is only fiction ... to divert attention from (real) issues," reported local news portal

On May 21, Jakarta Post reported a university lecturer in North Sumatra was arrested for posting on social media the comments, "What a perfect attention diverting scenario #2019ChangePresident," in reference to the Surabaya attacks.

She has been charged with inciting hate speech under the Information and Electronic Transactions Law.

"If this (conspiracy) mindset continues, the public will be apathetic towards efforts to fight terrorism. Such mindsets are damaging (to combatting terrorism),” said Ali.

Source: CNA/ac(hm)