The fight against modern terrorism requires a modern approach. Indonesia’s Detachment 88 is at the forefront of the fight.
By Oliver Ward
The Indonesian government will confront the heightened threat of lone wolf terrorist attacks. Indonesia’s counter-terrorism police unit will receive a boost in 2018. Detachment 88 is the unit responsible for combatting terrorism in Indonesia. The chief of police Tito Karnavian promised the unit an extra 600 extra members. This will more than double the size of Detachment 88.
Karnavian said he wanted the unit to “monitor terrorist threats more closely since ISIS networks remain in Indonesia and Southeast Asia”. Journalists asked if the decision was a response to a specific threat. He replied, “it’s more due to increasing lone wolf activity.”
It shows a forward-thinking approach to combatting terrorism
Indonesia has several high-profile events planned for 2018. These will be targets for radical groups. Lone wolf attacks are a threat to the safety of those attending the events.
Detachment 88 does not operate in the same way as conventional police units. 30 senior officers command the unit. Most have a doctorate background in psychology and social behaviour. The unit monitors communications and online activity, manages informants, and examines explosives.
The Journal for the International Centre for Political Violence and Terror Research made recommendations to fight international terrorism. The Islamic State (IS) has changed the nature of global terrorism. The centre recommended developing a strategy of anticipating attack scenarios. It also recommended nations develop a crisis management plan to respond to threats. A larger police presence is also necessary to prevent attacks.
Indonesian and Singaporean counter-terrorism units collaborated on an exercise
Indonesian counter-terrorism units have also begun preparing for possible attack scenarios. The Indonesian National Defence Forces (TNI) and the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) collaborated on a two-day exercise. The two sides conducted sessions on possible terror attack scenarios in December 2017. They explored their current responses to bomb threats in public places. They examined a scenario with a lone gunman in a shopping area. They also played out a situation where a terrorist could use a vehicle to ram civilians. They identified areas for improvement in each scenario.
Indonesia is leading the way in counter-terrorism
The Indonesian strategy is better equipped to handle terrorism than other ASEAN strategies. Malaysia is one of the key targets for IS networks in Southeast Asia. The IS unit Katibah Nusantara released a video in 2016. In the video the group warned of an attack on Malaysian soil.
Malaysian authorities have been slow to adapt to a more modern counter-terrorism approach. They have focused on stemming funding for terrorist cells within the country. The authorities identified and closed informal remittance channels. The Malaysian government has done very little to prevent lone wolf attacks. It has also done little to curb online recruitment. Digital recruitment is still rife on social media sites.
The Filipino government uses military deployment to combat terrorism. President Duterte deployed 7,000 soldiers to combat terrorism in Sulu in 2016. He deployed infantry battalions to crush IS terrorist cells in Mindanao. Duterte also declared martial law in 2017.
This approach has splintered terror groups within the country. The groups have had to split to evade the Filipino military units. But this strategy also leaves the Philippines vulnerable to lone radicalised attackers. Like Malaysia’s, it also does nothing to stop recruitment. The Filipino military recorded increased terrorist recruitment activities at the end of 2017.
Malaysia and the Philippines need an overhaul in their counter-terrorism strategies. Indonesia has shown that an intelligence-based approach decreases the number of terror attacks. It also increases the number of arrests of terror suspects.
Modern terrorism hides in plain sight and needs only a smartphone. A hammer-fisted military approach cannot prevent radicalised individuals from carrying out attacks. The fight against modern Islamic extremism requires something more delicate. Something the Indonesian authorities have discovered.