On Sunday, March 28, two suicide bombers from Jema’ah Ansharut Daulah (JAD), an Indonesian pro-Islamic State (IS) terrorist organization, detonated pressure cooker IEDs in front of the Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral in Makassar, South Sulawesi. The blast resulted in the death of the two perpetrators, Lukman and Yogi, and injured 20 people. The attack marked the 552nd terrorist attack in Indonesia between 2000 and 2021, and the most lethal JAD attack since the Surabaya triple bombing in 2018.
In its aftermath, police arrested a total of 32 suspected terrorists — 18 suspected JAD members in Makassar who were linked to the attack and 14 other individuals across four provinces, whose links to the bombings have not been confirmed. On the following Wednesday, March 31, a female pro-IS sympathizer, Zakiah, attacked the National Police Headquarters in Jakarta with an air gun. Although no ties between the National Police Headquarters attack and the Makassar bombing have been established, follow-up attacks by sympathizers after a large JAD attack are not an uncommon phenomenon. In May 2018, for example, JAD’s three-day Mako Brimob stand-off was followed by a series of inspired attacks against police officers.
The Makassar bombing itself, however, is particularly interesting to analyze as it marks an uptick in JAD’s lethality amid constant government counterterrorism efforts, which have led to the arrest of much of JAD’s senior leadership and withered the group’s financial sources — leaving the organization “almost dormant” by late 2020. Evidently, JAD’s attacks in the past two years, such as the 2019 knife attack against Indonesia’s former Coordinating Minister for Politics and Security Affairs Wiranto, are largely opportunistic in nature. Members often don’t plan to maximize damage or coverage — opting to quickly seize immediate opportunities for violence as they arrive.
The timing and target of the Makassar bombing on the other hand showed strategic intent. It was conducted on Palm Sunday as people gathered in an otherwise empty church that has been forced to stream its regular mass services due to COVID-19 restrictions, and it specifically targeted the Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral which has one of the biggest congregations in the city. That said, it is important to note that despite being JAD’s most lethal attack in the past few years, the Makassar bombing did not approach the operational sophistication and impact of JAD’s earlier attacks, such as the 2018 Surabaya triple bombing, which resulted in 58 casualties, or the 2016 Sarinah bombing, which resulted in 33 casualties.
While investigations into the attack are still ongoing, public arrests and reports of the bombing’s perpetrators provide two critical insights into how the operation, and thus JAD operations in general, was planned and conducted.
The Independence of JAD Cells
The first insight that the Makassar bombing provides is that despite its many cells and sympathizers who are dispersed across multiple Indonesian provinces, JAD attacks are often conducted by one cell independently of others. A week after the Makassar bombing, police found that the network of 18 suspected JAD members who aided the perpetrators through various preparatory roles — including ideological indoctrination, logistical support, operational supervision, and bomb assembly — all lived in Makassar. None of the network came from a different cell or province. Although police did arrest JAD members in Jakarta, West Java, East Java, and West Nusa Tenggara, no confirmation exists that those people had any direct role connected to the attack.
The independent nature of preparatory JAD operations networks — marked by the lack of involvement of other JAD cells in other provinces — is also evident in many of their other attacks. The 2019 police station bombing in Medan, for example, was supported by a network of 23 people who were all arrested in Medan, North Sumatra. Although police also arrested three people in Aceh, a neighboring province, their roles in the operation were mostly unspecified and they were still considered to be a part of the Medan cell. The structure of the 2018 Surabaya bombing’s preparatory network was also similar in that it was prepared and conducted by a single cell operating in a single province — police arrests after the bombing found a network of 31 people who all lived and were arrested in East Java.
The operational independence and self-reliance of JAD cells speaks to just how decentralized the organization is. Such a decentralized and independent structure is starkly different from terrorist organizations such as Jema’ah Islamiyah (JI) whose various cells depend on each other to deliver different, yet complementary, operational functions and whose central leadership intentionally designs bureaucratic infrastructures, such as the ALWI (Internal Intelligence and Police Unit), to centrally direct these cells. Even the Mujahideen of East Indonesia (MIT), despite its physical isolation in Poso, Central Sulawesi, operates with a degree of connection to other cells outside of its province. For example, in 2018 MIT relied on JAD’s Ambon cell in Maluku and Darul Islam’s Ring Banten in West Java to gain recruits.
JAD’s decentralized nature is partly caused by the way the organization was originally designed. As noted by a 2021 report from the Institute of Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC), JAD has always been more of a “haphazard conglomeration of cells, organizations, and individuals” as opposed to a well-structured organization. That said, near the beginning of its formation, JAD did have some notable cross-provincial inter-cell activity. For example, Ali Hamka, the head of a JAD cell in Indramayu, West Java, was noted to have had significant operational ties to JAD cells in Jakarta, vis-à-vis his participation in the 2016 Sarinah bombing, and Central Sulawesi, vis-à-vis his role in sending recruits to Poso. The organization’s structure, however, became increasingly decentralized and fractured since mid-2018 when mass arrests rendered JAD’s central structure non-functional, leaving no central authority to collectively control or direct a JAD “conglomerate” of independent cells. The Makassar bombing indicates that this is still the case.
The Role of Families in JAD Attacks
A second insight that the Makassar bombing gave into JAD’s operations is just how vital familial and personal bonds are in facilitating attacks. Evidently, the two suicide bombers of the Makassar bombing, Lukman and Yogi, were husband and wife who married six months before their suicide operation. This tactic — a suicide bomb led by a husband and wife pair — was similarly used in previous JAD attacks such as the 2018 Surabaya triple church bombing, which was orchestrated by Dita and Puji along with their children, and the 2019 Jolo Cathedral, which was orchestrated by Rullie and Ulfah. By using the family as an attack unit, JAD perpetrators are able to minimize online communication, and thus detection, while simultaneously envelope themselves in a small-group dynamic that reinforces operational commitment.
However, familial and personal ties mattered in the Makassar bombing not only by internally reinforcing Lukman and Yogi’s operational commitment, but also by externally connecting them to Rullie and Ulfah. Indeed, it is important to note that although the Makassar bombing and the Jolo bombing involved different terrorist organizations, they used peculiarly similar tactics. Police investigation soon found that these similarities were not purely coincidental as both pairs of suicide bombers were directly connected to one another vis-à-vis a network of familial and personal ties. Specifically, police found that Lukman and Yogi were in the same JAD cell and Quran recitation group as Ulfah’s daughter, Ainun Pretty Amalia, and Ulfah’s brother, Muhammad Rizaldy — who were both arrested and killed in a raid of 20 JAD members in Makassar by Special Detachment (Densus) 88 in January.
The role of Rizaldy is particularly important. Not only did he marry off Lukman and Yogi, indicating a strong degree of personal tie between him and the Makassar bombers, but Rizaldy was also reported to have been communicating with and sending money to the terrorist networks that sent Ulfah to Jolo, indicating that he not only had personal ties to the Jolo bombers but also operational ties with the networks that enabled that attack. Although Rizaldy’s exact role in connecting the Jolo and Makassar bombings is still unclear, it would not be surprising if, due to his connections, he was an important node that provided Lukman and Yogi the necessary information to emulate the 2019 Jolo Cathedral bombing.
The critical role of familial and personal networks in distributing vital information and/or operational logistics to enable successful terrorist attacks is well documented in Indonesia. For example, it was the personal and familial ties between Noordin M. Top, the JI commander, Rois, the ex-DI battalion commander, and Kang Jaja, the DI Ring Banten leader, that enabled Noordin to recruit and train Heri Golun — the suicide bomber of Top’s 2004 Australian Embassy bombing plan. Similarly, it was the personal ties between Imam Samudra, JI’s Mantiqi I leader, and Heri Hafidzin, DI Ring Banten’s recruitment leader, that enabled Samudra to recruit Iqbal — one of the suicide bombers for the 2002 Bali Bombing. The Makassar bombing indicates that even in 2021, familial ties are still important to pay attention to.
These insights shows that one should not be quick to judge that the Makassar bombing marks a significant “resurgence” of Indonesia’s most notorious pro-IS terrorist organization. Not only is the attack not as sophisticated or damaging as the group’s operations in 2015 or 2018, but the Makassar cell that prepared and conducted the attack also did so independently of other JAD cells. Unlike JI, JAD’s cells have always been decentralized in nature with little to no coordination or knowledge transfer between its various cells. Consequently, it would be unwise to take the strategic orientation and operational capacity of JAD Makassar as a benchmark to estimate the capacity of other JAD cells.
Instead, it is more important to analyze JAD not only through an organizational lens, but also through a social network lens. By understanding the personal and familial ties between cells and members, one can better appreciate how JAD operates — why, for instance, despite the notorious success of two JAD members, Rullie and Ulfah, in the Jolo bombing, only JAD Makassar had the thought to emulate similar operations. Indeed, the role of familial and personal ties in Indonesian terrorist dynamics has had a long history. The Makassar bombing simply showed that even until now, amidst “the rise of online radicalization” and lone wolf attacks, such ties are still as important as ever to pay attention to.