Indonesian Military Under Terrorist Attack

A mother being comforted after her son, a TNI personnel, was fatally injured by MIT terrorists (above). In its fight against terrorism, TNI continues to be targeted by violent extremists. Heightened security measures are needed to prevent future attacks on its personnel and installations. Credits: KOMPAS.COM/Idon


On November 27, 2020 the Indonesian anti-terror police unit Detachment 88 dismantled a pro-Islamic State extremist group, called Mujahidin Pohuwato, and arrested eight of its members. As reflected in its name, the group is based in Pohuwato, Gorontalo province, on Sulawesi Island. They were initially a non-violent Islamic revivalist group, Tablighi Jamaat, who were radicalized through social media such as Facebook, Telegram and WhatsApp groups. The group planned to attack various hard targets such as the Mananggu sub-district military headquarters and police stations in Pohuwato and Marisa. They also planned to rob members of the Pohuwato local parliament and an Indonesian Chinese store owner. This article explains the group’s interest in targeting the military and proposes solutions to prevent future casualties of TNI personnel.

TNI Targeted on Numerous Occasions

Islamic extremists target Indonesian military headquarters for two reasons. First, they perceive military personnel as anshar thaghut (helpers of tyrants), who prevent them from establishing an Islamic state based on their interpretation of Islamic law. Regardless how military personnel present themselves as pious Muslims, they will continue to be deemed as unbelievers by extremists and, thus, worthy to be attacked. Second, they intend to seize TNI’s weapons in light of limited alternative sources. This means that military presence in an area does not always deter extremists. Instead, extremists could be attracted to its weapons cache.

Mujahidin Pohuwanto’s plan to attack a military installation was not the first terror plot on the TNI. Previously, in April 2011, a member of Ashabul Kahfi group, Muhammad Syarif, killed a military personnel in Cirebon, West Java whom he considered as an anshar thaghut. In April 2020 another pro-IS group, Muhajirin Anshar Tauhid, also planned to attack the district military headquarters in Bima, West Nusa Tenggara to seize their weapons.

We should not underestimate extremists’ interest in attacking military headquarters because despite their lack of capabilities, they remain committed to executing their attack plan. A research by PAKAR, an Indonesian-based NGO that studies terrorism, discovered that not only had Mujahidin Pohuwanto members surveyed the Mananggu sub-district military headquarters, but one of its members, Fijal Kadue, was also set to conduct the attack in late 2018. Equipped with a bow, two arrows and a knife, he left his home and went to the military headquarters. As the headquarters was seemingly vacant, he decided to delay his attack while waiting at the house of a fellow member. However, upon seeing the member’s sister covered only with a towel, he became aroused. Consequently, he decided to cancel his attack altogether because of his impure thoughts.

Lax Security in Koramil

There are 332 district military headquarters (known as Kodim) and an estimated 7,252 sub-district military headquarters (known as Koramil) across Indonesia. Although extremists target both district and sub-district headquarters, Kodim seems to be a harder target than Koramil. This is due to Kodim housing large numbers of personnel and enforcing strict security. A Kodim usually has a gated entrance/check point manned by one or two personnel equipped with a rifle. Such security points can stop extremists from entering the headquarters. Conversely, Koramil contains a small number of personnel (around 7-10) and has a lax security. Its unguarded entrance has no check point making it easy for extremists to penetrate its compound. For this reason, it is not surprising that Koramil are more targeted by extremists than Kodim.

Need for Heightened Monitoring and Coordination by Military Intelligence

The cases of Mujahidin Pohuwato and Muhajirin Anshar Tauhid emphasize the urgency for military intelligence to intensify their efforts to monitor extremist groups, particularly online. This is evident when members of both groups, initially non-violent with moderate interpretation of Islam, became radicalized by pro-IS recruiters through social media. Thus, the military cyber unit needs to aggressively detect extremist online radicalisation activities, identify and conduct surveillance on individuals keen on pursuing terrorism. Upon collecting strong evidence of potential attacks, it is imperative for the unit to work with the intelligence officers in Kodim and Koramil for further investigations. For quicker mitigation of threat, military intelligence officers need to coordinate their work with Detachment 88 who could be investigating the same plotters and are authorized to conduct arrests.

Three Measures to Prevent Future Attacks on TNI

To prevent future attacks on Kodim and Koramil, it is crucial for TNI to implement the following measures. First, TNI facilities can be further secured by building fences around its Kodim and Koramil compounds while ensuring manned check points are installed at all entrances. Minimally, these fixtures will hinder attacks, giving Kodim and Koramil personnel added reactionary time.

Second, TNI needs to empower its village supervisory non-commissioned officers (Babinsa) to suss out suspected extremists in villages under their supervision and report them to the Koramil commander, who will then report to the Kodim commander. With the information supplied by the Babinsa, the Koramil commander will be better able to determine if the suspected extremists pose a serious security threat to the Koramil. If the threats are legitimate, the Koramil commander can ready his men for potential attacks while working with Detachment 88 to apprehend them prior to their attacks.

Third, TNI needs to monitor ideological infiltration by extremists into its personnel as according to the former defence minister, Ret. Gen. Ryamizard Ryacudu, around 3% of TNI members were exposed to extremism. Unfortunately, there have been several of such infiltrations. In the most recent case, the Mujahidin Pohuwato group had infiltrated the Koramil in Mananggu. One of its members, Miman, befriended and elicited a Koramil personnel to share information on the headquarters’ weapons depot. The information was crucial in assisting the group plan its attack on the Koramil while seizing military weapons. Other prominent examples include the cases of the late Yuli Harsono, Daeng Koro and Lesmana Ibrahim. These men were not only recruited by extremists, but participated in attacks on military installations and the public. The former Second Private Yuli Harsono did not only steal ammunitions from a military ammunition  depot in Bandung, West Java in 2001-2003 but he also killed two police officer in Central Java in 2010. The former special forces member Daeng Koro helped the late Santoso, the leader of Mujahidin of Eastern Indonesia (MIT), a pro-IS terrorist group based in Poso, Central Sulawesi develop MIT. He was responsible for a series of attacks in the province. The former naval intelligence officer, Lesmana Ibrahim, provided refuge for a perpetrator of the Jakarta Petra Church bombing in 2001.

To address such infiltration, TNI needs to screen its personnel’s contacts to reduce any possible interactions with extremists keen on involving them in unsanctioned missions. TNI also needs to ban its personnel from attending extremist religious gatherings and their access to online extremist propaganda. Additionally, extremist preachers should be banned from preaching at the mosques in military compounds.

The views expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of STRAT.O.SPHERE CONSULTING PTE LTD.

This article is published under a Creative Commons Licence. Republications minimally require 1) credit authors and their institutions, and 2) credit to STRAT.O.SPHERE CONSULTING PTE LTD  and include a link back to either our home page or the article URL.


  • Dr. Budi Pramono is a senior lecturer at the Indonesian Defence University. He is an active writer with his latest publication entitled, "Without Weapons: Concepts and Applications of Military Operations Other than War in Indonesia" (Unhan Press, 2021).

  • Prof. Anak Agung Banyu Perwita is a Professor of International Relations at the Indonesian Defence University. He is also an active panellist at Indonesia's National Resilience Council, National Resilience Institute (LEMHANAS), Coordinating Ministry for Political, Legal and Security, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Ministry of Defence.

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