Hong Kong (20/4-57.14). The men were arrested on March 29 in Jakarta and West Java by the Indonesian police special counterterrorism squad Detachment 88 – or Densus 88 – a day after the church bombing in South Sulawesi, to which the FPI members have not been linked.
Last weekend, four members of Indonesia’s banned Islamic Defender Front (FPI) extremist group made shocking video confessions; two were planning to bomb Chinese-owned businesses as well as shops owned by ethnically Chinese Indonesians, while the others had made plans to attack the police and the military with acid and pipe bombs.
Five pipe bombs were seized from the home of one of the suspects, along with 5.5kg of explosive materials, including 1.5kg of triacetone triperoxide (TATP). There were enough explosives seized, according to police, to make 70 more bombs.
One of those arrested, Ahmad Junaidi, said he was an FPI sympathizer who had attended weekly Koranic study sessions led by fellow detainee Husein Hasni. In a video published by news portal Detik.com, Ahmad revealed that after each session, the group would discuss the latest issues facing the country, and they concluded that Indonesia was “controlled by China”.
Members of the banned Islamic Defender Front have admitted to planning attacks on Indonesian-Chinese citizens and China-owned businesses. Resentment against those of Chinese heritage is nothing new, but analysts say the Covid-19 recession and events such as the repression of Uygur Muslims have fueled a new wave of anger
“My home was the place in which bombs were made. Right at this moment, I know how to make bombs from TATP and flash powder,” he said in the video.
The news of the planned anti-Chinese attacks came as anger simmers among the FPI’s members and sympathizers, who number in the hundreds of thousands, after their leader’s arrest and the government’s ban of the organisation.
Given that ethnically Chinese citizens have faced state discrimination in the past, some analysts are concerned the community, which makes up some 5 per cent of Indonesia’s population of 270 million, could again suffer violent attacks. Isis supporters in Indonesia, Malaysia call for more violence after church attack.
“The recent discovery of the plots … is quite worrying. I am personally worried for the safety of ethnic Indonesian-Chinese and those from China,” said Mohamad Adhe Bhakti, executive director of the Centre for Radicalism and Deradicalization Studies (PAKAR).
“The perpetrators felt the government has not been fair and this led them to become jealous towards China and ethnic Indonesian-Chinese,” Adhe said.
According to Indonesia’s investment board, China was Indonesia’s second-biggest foreign investor last year, with US$4.8 billion in investments, behind Singapore’s US$9.8 billion.
Adhe said religion and geopolitics were other factors in China being targeted by extremists.
Since 2017, more than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims have been driven out of Rakhine state by the military of Myanmar, a majority-Buddhist country. Adhe said even though it was a Myanmar issue, it still “somehow puts ethnic Indonesian-Chinese within the FPI’s sight, as the majority of them are Buddhists”.
Iwa Maulana, a researcher at the Center for Detention Studies in Jakarta, said the FPI’s threats against the Chinese had the potential to be serious as the perception that “China controls Indonesia” was not just held by the detained suspects but also by “thousands of Indonesians”.
“Those people in question have personal struggles like a difficult life, no earnings … and now they have a target, Chinese industries, which are framed as the source of their grievances,” he said. “You can imagine: if people could be mobilized in those huge numbers to commit violent acts, for sure it would be a serious threat.”
Maulana said the presence of mainland Chinese workers in Indonesia inflamed tensions as they were viewed as taking jobs away from locals. “If there is news about mainland Chinese workers, people of a certain sociocultural background will for sure react aggressively,” he said. “My guess is that segment of society intersects with the FPI.”
Adhe of PAKAR said the center had recorded at least five terror plots against Chinese businesses and Chinese-Indonesians over the years. Among them was a 2012 bomb threat at a temple in Glodok, a center for Chinese businesses in Jakarta, he said.
Jemaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD), the Indonesian affiliate of Islamic State (Isis), had targeted several businesses run by Chinese-Indonesians for robbery, said Maulana of the Center for Detention Studies.
“When you talk about the ethnic Chinese as a target for terror attacks, it is always there in Indonesia,” he said. “The question is: when?”
Adhe said the government could help defuse anti-Chinese sentiment by being transparent as to why some Chinese businesses were awarded projects.
“If a Chinese or a government company is picked for a construction project, for example, the government should provide an explanation such as whether the Chinese or government company was competitive and invested capital in the country,” Adhe said.