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First ISIS terrorist attack in Indonesia: A return to darker times? (+video)

As Indonesia reels from its first major terrorist attack in years, does it herald a return to darker days, or can this country known for its moderate form of Islam overcome the lure of Islamic State?

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    A police officer gives a hand signal to a squad mate as they search a building near the site of an explosion in Jakarta, Indonesia Thursday, January 14, 2016.
    Tatan Syuflana/AP
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An assault by suicide bombers and gunmen rocked Jakarta Thursday, in what is being described as the first Islamic State attack in Indonesia.

Police took three hours to bring an end to the attacks in the capital city, in which at least seven died and 20 were injured. Five of the dead were attackers. 

Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country, is no stranger to Islamic terrorism. But this latest strike is the first since 2009 when militants bombed two hotels. 

Amaq news agency, linked to Islamic State, claimed responsibility for the attack. Jakarta’s police chief, Gen. Tito Karnavian, told reporters the attackers had links to Islamic State in Raqqa, Syria.

The coordinated assault in Jakarta by a team of suicide bombers and gunmen follows a pattern seen in Mumbai in 2008 and in Paris last November, notes Reuters

Gen. Karnavian identified the ringleader of the attackers as Bahrun Naim, an Indonesian currently in Syria. He said Mr. Bahrun had been sentenced to prison in Indonesia in 2012 for offenses involving illegal possession of firearms and explosives.

At least 300 Indonesians have made the journey to Syria to join Islamic State, Sidney Jones, director of the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict in Jakarta, told the New York Times.

Other countries in Southeast Asia are also on alert for potential expansion by Islamic State, which has sought to gain affiliates outside its Middle East base of operations. 

The New York Times quotes an Indonesian political analyst as saying that the government has not done enough in recent years to quell radical Islam. However, Ms. Jones noted that while Indonesia has seen a spike in the number of violent plots over the past six months, “none of it is a reaction to domestic politics.”

“It’s a desire to prove that jihadi groups are still alive and well in Indonesia and are committed to carrying out the ISIS agenda,” she said.

The vast majority of Indonesia’s 250 million citizens practice a moderate form of Islam and there are sizeable minorities of Christians, Hindus, and Buddhists.

But moderate and hard-liner Islamists, some espousing violence, have in recent years been engaged in an internal struggle, with Islamic State making inroads. Until now, most of the militant violence had been limited to low-level assaults on police and was blamed on a resurgent Jemaah Islamiyah, a Southeast Asian affiliate of Al Qaeda.

That group carried out the 2002 Bali bombing, which left 202 people dead, mostly foreigners on vacation. Prior to Thursday's attack, the last major act of terrorism was in 2009, when two hotels were bombed. Those attacks were blamed on a splinter group from Jermaah Islamiyah. 

Indonesian authorities had been successful in breaking up many of the groups involved in these attacks, but Thursday's assault could signal a new phase. 

Indonesian President Joko Widodo said in a televised address Thursday, “Our nation and our people should not be afraid… We will not be defeated by these acts of terror. I hope the public stays calm.”

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