Indonesian police have foiled plans by an IS-linked group for a Christmas-time suicide bombing after killing three suspected militants Wednesday and discovering a cache of bombs, authorities said.
A firefight erupted at a house in South Tangerang 25 kilometres (15 miles) west of the capital Jakarta, with police saying the alleged militants had opened fire at officers.
“We asked the three men to surrender but they fought, with one of them throwing a bomb (at officers). Thankfully the bomb didn’t explode and we took firm action against them,” said national police spokesman Rikwanto, who goes by one name.
He said the group to which the three belong, which is linked to the Islamic State group (IS), had planned to stab a police officer at a police station and wait for crowds to gather before launching a suicide bomb attack around the Christmas holidays.
The targeted location is near a private hospital west of Jakarta, police added.
Bomb squad officers in protective gear have so far detonated six bombs seized from the house and more are expected to be blown up before investigators can enter the building. Police have yet to disclose the total number of bombs discovered on Wednesday.
The plot was disclosed by a group member who was arrested earlier on Wednesday and tipped off police about the three militants and their whereabouts, police said.
The raid came less than two weeks after police arrested four Islamic militants including a female suicide bomber in Bekasi east of Jakarta. They were plotting to bomb one of the guard posts at the presidential palace.
Police said the men in South Tangerang have links to the Bekasi group and to Bahrun Naim, a leading Indonesian militant fighting with IS in Syria who was allegedly responsible for several botched assaults in his homeland.
“These groups are linked to ISIS. Some recruit, some donate, some assemble the bombs and some carried out the attack,” another national police spokesman Martinus Sitompul said, using another acronym for IS.
– Easy target –
A security analyst said Indonesians fighting for IS in Syria appeared to have designated the Philippines the safe house for IS-related groups in the region. Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country, had become the main target of terror attacks.
“Indonesia is easier to be a target because (the militants) think it’s easier here. Law enforcement is weak and it’s easy to get a fake ID,” analyst Al Chaidar told AFP.
Police said investigations are continuing into the larger network and its agenda.
In separate raids police also arrested two suspected militants on Sumatra island. It was not clear whether they were part of the group that plotted the Christmas attack.
Nearly a year ago a suicide bomber blew himself up in a Starbucks cafe while others blew up a police post and attacked police in Jakarta’s main thoroughfare, in the first attack claimed by IS in Southeast Asia.
The attack killed four civilians and four militants.
Indonesia suffered a string of deadly homegrown attacks during the 2000s — including the 2002 Bali bombings which killed over 200 people.
A sustained crackdown has weakened many of the most dangerous extremist networks but there have been fears of a resurgence in militancy.