Indonesia's 'terror families' behind suicide attacks

A woman walks in front of a church hit by suicide bombers on Sunday, in Surabaya, Indonesia May 14, 2018. — Reuters pic
A woman walks in front of a church hit by suicide bombers on Sunday, in Surabaya, Indonesia May 14, 2018. — Reuters pic

SURABAYA, May 14 — Their middle-class life, with talk of holidays and a love of pets, held no clues to the dark plan Dita Oepriyanto and his wife put in motion as they led their four children to their deaths.

Oepriyanto, 48, spouse Puji Kuswati and the kids  -- including two girls aged nine and 12 -- all died on Sunday in coordinated strikes on churches in the country’s second-biggest city Surabaya.

To neighbours, the family was devoutly religious with an upstanding father who sold herbal medicine.

“He was once the head of the neighbourhood unit. I met him almost everyday at a mosque near his house,” Taufik Gani, 60, told newspaper Koran Tempo.

Online photos bearing 43-year-old Kuswati’s name show what appears to be the family smiling back at the camera, the two youngest girls in matching red hijab head scarves and holding flowers.

Kuswati had over 250 friends on a Facebook account packed with pictures of nature, river rafting and the family cats. She also said she was a fan of a local heavy metal band. Her last Facebook post was made in 2014.

Kuswati is now Indonesia’s first known female suicide bomber.

Two other families connected to the family and a local extremist network have been implicated in another series of explosions, that left most of them dead.

Taken together they reveal a shocking new terror modus operandi in the world’s biggest Muslim-majority country: suicide bombing parents who take their own children’s lives in an attack.

‘Tactical benefits’

That is a shift from when radical group Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) -- behind attacks including the 2002 Bali bombing that killed over 200 -- was synonymous with terrorism in Indonesia.

“The involvement of women is new, especially with children,” said Nava Nuraniyah, an analyst at the Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict.

“During the JI (Jemaah Islamiyah) era it was forbidden to use women” in attacks.

IS by contrast has welcomed female fighters into its fold, and the attraction of using women, including young girls, in attacks is obvious, Nuraniyah added.

“Women are always seen as peaceful, so security guards are also more relaxed towards women as well,” she said.

“There are tactical benefits.”

On Sunday morning, Kuswati and her two daughters, who were wearing niqab face veils and had bombs strapped to their waists, walked onto the grounds of the Kristen Indonesia Diponegoro Church, where their explosives were detonated.

They had been dropped off by Oepriyanto who then drove a bomb-laden car into the Surabaya Centre Pentecostal Church.

Indonesian authorities have named Oepriyanto as the local cell leader of extremist network Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD), which has pledged allegiance to IS.

His sons rode a motorcycle into Santa Maria church where they detonated explosives they were carrying, dying instantly.

Children being taken along to attacks may be impossible for most to comprehend, but they likely did not understand their imminent fate, an analyst said.

“It might be a situation where the family still believes in traditional roles, and the traditional father’s role is that (he) has the power so everyone has to obey,” said Ade Banani, a social psychology researcher at the University of Indonesia’s research centre of police science and terrorism studies.

“The children probably don’t know what’s going on or don’t understand.” — AFP

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