JAKARTA, INDONESIA —
Jakarta mobilized its entire police force Friday to guard the capital a day after the first attack by the Islamic State group in the world’s most populous Muslim nation.
Two civilians died, along with five assailants, in the assault. About two dozen other people were seriously wounded, including several Europeans.
Officers carrying automatic weapons slung on their shoulders could be seen patrolling inside the upscale Plaza Indonesia shopping center.
Three people -- described by police as a bomb-maker, a firearms expert and a preacher -- were arrested Friday in Depok, about 40 kilometers south of the capital. There were conflicting statements by officials as to whether the trio is linked to the Jakarta attack, although police said an IS black flag was recovered during the raid in Depok.
The nearby Serinah shopping mall was one of the intended soft targets of Thursday’s assault.
A vigilant security team is credited with thwarting an attack on the mall by detouring a vehicle to a checkpoint where the assailants detonated their explosives.
In addition to shopping centers, security has also been stepped up at embassies and hospitals, Jakarta Metropolitan Police spokesman Mohammad Iqbal told reporters.
Some countries, including the United States, kept their embassies closed Friday.
One of the perpetrators who died in Thursday's violence had previously been arrested for possessing ammunition during a time U.S. President Barack Obama had visited the country, Indonesian national police chief Badrodin Haiti told reporters Friday.
Despite Thursday’s IS attack in Indonesia, authorities here are gaining praise from security analysts, noting the country has been seeing hundreds of supporters of the terrorist group shuttle between the Southeast Asian nation and Syria.
“The fact they missed one shouldn’t be taken as a massive failure,” said Sidney Jones, director of the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict.
Jones, speaking from Singapore, told VOA the arrests made by police in November and December likely meant a significantly smaller casualty count, but that such an attack was inevitable as “there’s been activity brewing for some time.”
As long as the IS networks remain active with aspirational Islamists intent on doing harm in Indonesia, “we will continue to see attempts,” he said.
'Imitate' Paris attacks
Thursday’s attack by at least five assailants also involved two explosions outside a Starbuck’s coffee shop frequented by Westerners, including diplomats who worked in nearby embassies and United Nations offices.
While Indonesian authorities contend the attack was meant to “imitate” the coordinated Paris siege on November 15 last year, the first IS attack in Indonesia fell short of that level of carnage.
Analysts theorize that the Jakarta attack on soft targets with a poorly trained small group armed with grenades, homemade bombs and handguns may have been hurried into execution amid leaders of rival factions jockeying to be in line to be recognized as “emir” should IS declare Indonesia as one of its provinces.
"That’s why [Indonesian IS fighter] Bahrun Naim plotted this attack," from Raqqa in Syria, said Jakarta’s police chief Tito Karnavian just hours after the incident.
The Islamic State-linked Aamaq News Agency said the Jakarta attack "targeted foreign nationals and security forces charged with protecting them."
A U.S. counterterrorism official told VOA there was no reason to doubt Islamic State’s claim of responsibility for the attacks.
U.S. military and intelligence officials have been warning the terror group has been placing a greater emphasis on so-called external attacks, devoting more people and resources, while using the attacks in Paris that killed 130 as a model.
'Symptom of the losses'
“It’s definitely a symptom of the losses they’ve been suffering, like in [the Iraqi city of] Ramadi,” a U.S. official told VOA on condition of anonymity.
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The official said Islamic State has repeatedly shown that when its forces falter at fighting a more conventional-style war on the ground, it will shift toward more asymmetric, terrorist tactics, both in Iraq and Syria and elsewhere.
The United States condemned the attacks "in the strongest possible terms." A White House statement said the U.S. will stand by its strategic partnership with Indonesia and "the government of Indonesia as it works to bring those responsible for this barbaric terrorist attack to justice and build a more secure future."
Indonesia is no stranger to acts of terrorism. Most notably in recent years, two luxury hotels in Jakarta were hit by separate blasts five minutes apart on July 17, 2009, killing some foreigners. That attack took place nearly four years after coordinated suicide bombings and car blasts at two sites on the resort island of Bali killed more than 20 people.