Armed men carried out a series of gun and bomb attacks in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Thursday, with news organizations reporting varying death tolls of at least six or seven people.
The blasts occurred near the Sarinah shopping center in the Jalan MH Thamrin business district with the main target appearing to be a Starbucks café. The attackers used grenades and exchanged fire with police, international media reported. Attackers also targeted a police station.
At least one police officer has also died during the exchange of fire, and one foreigner who was working for the United Nations (building of the UN is located nearby), also lost his life.
According to CNN, there have been no claims of responsibility but one analyst likened the timed attacks to last year’s Paris massacre where ISIS struck several locations at the same time. Indonesia’s annual retail sales rack up to $326 billion and have been increasing at a compound annual rate of 3.5 percent, according to A.T. Kearney’s Global Retail Development Index from last year.
A.T. Kearney said new market entrants in 2014 included American Eagle Outfitters and bookseller WH Smith. South Korea’s Lotte, already present in the department store segment, opened its first supermarket in Jakarta, according to the research.
Political analyst Yohanes Sulaiman said that the attackers likely chose the business district because it was the “least protected area in the middle of the capital city,” and its close proximity to the Presidential Palace, the United Nations and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations offices could be considered symbolic.
However Sulaiman said he does not think the country’s robust retail industry will be affected in the long run.
“Maybe in the short term, maybe because people will be nervous and they would think they might strike again. But in the long run…give it a week or so, and everything will go back to normal,” he said. “This is not like the Bali bombings where you have 200 people dead.”
However, this incident will still be seen as a “huge black mark” against Indonesia’s national police force as it is the first terrorist attack in seven years, and the global community’s anxiety over it is high because of the Islamic State, Sulaiman said.
“Keep in mind that Indonesia is one of the most populous countries with Muslims and there is a question whether if this is actually a new beginning of ISIS in Indonesia — which I seriously doubt,” he said.
A source from the Indonesian security agency, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the attack stared inside the Starbucks with a small blast. And then, “while the guests were running outside, there was yet another blast, this one outside the café,” he said. “The perpetrators took two hostages, both foreigners, and then they shot them, execution-style. A few minutes later, there was a suicide bomb explosion at the police post in front of Sarinah Plaza, Thamrin.”
Images of carnage have been circulating through social media networks, spreading panic and outrage.
“We were having lunch at Pacific Place Mall, miles away from the attacks,” said Irawati Wahyudi, lecturer at Perbanas (National Banking Association). “But several perpetrators fled towards this area. For some time we were literally imprisoned — we could not get out of the mall as the police were still chasing the terrorists. At Pacific Place, only one entrance was kept open, the one in front of Artha Graha building. All entrances leading directly to the Galeries Lafayette, which is inside Pacific Place, were closed down. All parking areas at this mall were empty, also the streets surrounding the mall and the Ritz Carlton Hotel.”
Sarinah Thamrin used to be the place to shop and play, but during the last decades and years, its importance was steadily diminishing, and lately it was mainly hosting secondary as well as local brands. Top brands are now concentrating their boutiques at several newer, so-called “5-star malls,” including Plaza Indonesia, Grand Indonesia, Plaza Senayan and Galeries Lafayette. There, the security is much tougher.
However, Starbucks, which became the prime target of the attackers, is one of the meeting places of choice for both foreigners and local trendy crowd, being centrally located near the United Nation’s building, the Japanese embassy, Pullman Hotel, a movie theater and several Western fast food establishments. There is also a huge stand-alone Louis Vuitton boutique nearby.
A senior Singaporean security expert told WWD over the phone that the “attacks were extremely, badly planned.”
“Jakarta was very lucky,” the security expert said. “Would ISIS or whoever carried out the attacks be more precise in their planning, hundreds of people could have lost their lives.”
But for most of the citizens of Indonesia, this carnage was bad enough. Santi Mia Sipan, a prominent businesswoman in Jakarta, could subdue her anger. “I am sad, outraged and very concerned,” she said. “Jakarta became suddenly so quiet. I think economy had stopped, or at least for today. All shops are now closed. At 2:30 pm I was allowed to enter Senayan City Mall, where I am a priority client of the BCA Bank. Imagine the place is three-and-a-half miles from the area where the attacks took place and still, some 90 percent of the shops and boutiques were closed. My son-in-law works in a hotel and he said that many guest have been checking out. Big groups are cancelling their reservation.”
In Indonesia, several devastating terrorist attacks took place in the past, targeting both luxury hotels in Jakarta, as well as the tourist island of Bali. During the past year, however, things were quiet. “Calm before the storm,” was the conclusion of many regional experts on terrorism.
Syawalina — as is the case with many Indonesians, she has only one name — is a small-retail businesswoman in Jakarta. She described the panic and disruption the attack had on the city: “I was at Tanah Abang [the largest and oldest wholesale market in the city, located in the vicinity of Sarinah Thamrin], doing my usual purchasing of goods there, when suddenly my friends and family members began texting and calling me in total panic, referring to the bombings.”
“Later on, I was supposed to meet my friend inside Sarinah Thamrin,”Syawalina said. “I could not get any transportation out from Tanah Abang as police closed most of the streets surrounding Sarinah, and also the area around Palmerah [West Jakarta] as it was believed that there was another bomb planted there. I had to walk all the way. It was eerie as people were saying that there were terrorists still at large, somewhere in my city. I never saw Jakarta so quiet, so empty.”