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Vessel of fire: 17 people still missing, 23 dead

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A search resumed on Monday for 17 people reportedly missing after a ferry fire off the coast of Indonesia’s capital that left at least 23 dead, officials said. The victims died on Sunday when the vessel, Zahro Express, carrying more than 260 people from a port near Jakarta to Tidung, a resort island in the Kepulauan Seribu chain, caught fire, officials said. Most of the passengers were Indonesians celebrating the New Year holiday, according to local media reports.

Four people suspected of terrorism have been arrested

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Two terror suspects reportedly remain at large after the police arrested four people who they say had planned a suicide bomb attack on the State Palace in Central Jakarta, a police spokesman said on Sunday, Dec. 11.

Four people, including a female suicide bomber, were nabbed in three separate locations on Saturday afternoon accused of planning the brazen attack, which was going to be carried out during Car Free Day on Sunday morning. So far, the terror suspects are only identified by their initials, NS, AS, DYN and SY, a.k.a. Abu Izzah.

“Two other suspects are still on the run. And we may have more suspects depending on the ongoing investigation,” police spokesman Chief Comr. Awi Setiyono told a press conference in Jakarta as reported by state-run Antara news agency.

Indonesia considering new anti-terrorism legislation. Fears of repercussions on the human-rights

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 After the attacks that hit Jakarta last week, concluded with the death of four civilians and four attackers, Indonesian President Joko Widodo asked yesterday the review of anti-terrorism laws in force in the archipelago.

The proposed amendment would clearly go in the direction of a tightening of security controls, and allows security forces to immediately arrest any person suspected of planning terrorist attacks. The police fear that Indonesian jihadists engaged in Middle – East and North Africa may return home to prepare new attacks.

The proposal has generated concerns because many feel that a new more restrictive anti-terrorism law could lead to an excessive increase of the controls and be used as a tool of repression in a country that has already suffered from the weakness of its rule of law.

The new legislation would also allow the police to detain suspects for more than a week (current limit), without charge, and would make illegal any military activity with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. According to local authorities estimates, some 500 Indonesians have already left to fight as foreign fighters alongside jihadists of Daesh. 100 of these have already returned without having gained ,however, in most cases, combat experience.

The reform advocated by President Widodo should be approved quickly enough, given the cross support expressed by the majority of political forces represented in Parliament. Only some opposition parties have expressed their fears for a change that could result in suppression of dissent and freedom of expression. Along the same lines were, concerns were expressed by human rights organizations and radical Islamic groups.

It is feared that, in the wake of the attacks, the country can take a step back on the path of democracy, giving the police powers similar to those exercised during the 32 years of bloody dictatorship of General Suharto, when hundreds of thousands of dissidents accused of communism were persecuted and brutally murdered by militia supported by the regime.

Indonesia, the police on the trail of the terrorist network

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In the aftermath of the Jakarta attacks, claimed by the Islamic State, which left five dead on the ground among  the bombers and civilian casualties (a local citizen and a Canadian), the Indonesian police has been able to identify some of the terrorists that were killed and performed the first arrests, around the capital and in other regions of the country.

The attack started on Thursday morning at 10.40 local time, with a series of six explosions in quick succession, in a commercial area of ​​the Indonesian capital. Two attackers opened fire on customers of a Starbucks coffee shop hit by one of the explosions, while two suicide bombers blew themselves up near a road junction where several policemen were stationating. The police responded quickly surroundig  the area and attacking the jihadists with the help of cars and armored vehicles. The shooting lasted for several hours, until the three terrorists, after being holed up in a movie theater, were killed by the police.

The attack was claimed by ISIS with a statement online. According to local police, the attacks were organized and directed by Bahrun Naim, an Indonesian jihadist fighting with the ISIS in Syria that aims to become the leader of the organization in the Southeast Asia.

General Badrodin Haiti, the national police chief, said that two of the bombers were convicted and jailed in the past for activities linked to radical Islamism and has released the name of one of the two, Afif Sunakim, which had previously granted a sentence of seven years. The head of the Jakarta Police, Inspector General Tito Karnavian, then revealed that in the capital were ongoing counterterrorism operations to capture the members of some cells ready to go into action.

In his claim, ISIS explained that the purpose of the attacks was hit Indonesia for its support to the international coalition fighting Daesh in Syria and Iraq. According to the Indonesian police, the group that organized the attacks is connected with other cells operating in the country, in Java and Sulawesi. Naim, specifically, would be connected to MIT, a jihadist group active Indonesian island of Sulawesi that declares to be ally of the Islamic State. Since 2002, the year of a bloody attack in Bali which killed 202 people, Indonesia has always kept his guard high, arresting a total of over a thousand people in the context of counter-terrorism operations. Some jihadists, however, have been released over the years, and the attacks on Thursday, said the police chief, demonstrate how they can still pose a real danger.

According to the head of the national police Haiti, the last attack represent a quantum leap in the confrontation between security forces and Islamic extremism. The fact that a direct link between ISIS and local groups has emerged is a worrying and and major change. Investigators also believe that the action was organized and funded directlyfrom Syria, through Bahrun Naim.

Even the president of Indonesia Joko Widodo made its voice heard, after the attacks, with a tweet: “There is no place for terrorism on Earth – he wrote – and every citizen in the world” needed to fight it.

Luca Marchesini
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