Indonesian security forces scored a major coup recently, with the killing on 17 September of Noordin Mohammad Top, leader of Tanzim Qaedat al-Jihad, a splinter group from Jemaah Islamyia. Top was said to be responsible for a string off suicide attacks in South East Asia, including the 2002 and 2005 Bali bombings, the 2003 attack on the Jakarta Marriott hotel, the 2004 bombing of the Australian Embassy in Jakarta and, most recently, the 17 July attacks on the Marriott and Ritz Carlton hotels in Jakarta. With Noordin’s death, new details have emerged regarding these final two atatcks, and it seems worthwhile to look in some detail at how these attacks were mounted.
A key element in the plot appears to have been the use of an insider within the Ritz Carlton, specifically one Ibrohim Muharram, who had been employed at the hotel’s florists since 2005. Ibrohim was a 37-year-old married father of four. However police allege he had been recruited by Top in 2000. Police claimed that Ibrohim had started reconnaissance against the hotels in April. Videos discovered on Noordin Top’s laptop after his death earlier this month showed details of these preparations. In one video, the two bombers, Dani Dwi Permana, 18, and Nana Ikhwan Maulana, 28, are seen doing stretches near an empty lot in front of the targeted JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels.In a second video, the bombers and Ibrohim are seen having a picnic on the grass in front of the hotels. On 8 July Ibrohim led the two suicide attackers on a tour through the hotels on 8 July, two weeks before the attacks.
On July 10, one of the attackers booked a room using the alias Nurdin Aziz and when he turned up to take the room on 16 July, he used a fake identity card. The day before the attacks, Ibrohim helped smuggle the explosives into the hotel by opening a basement cargo truck to an accomplice driving a truck. CCTV footage showed him unloading three containers alleged to have been filled with explosives. He also took one of the bombers to the previously booked room (1808) in the hotel, which was then used as a staging point from which to mount the attack. Intriguingly, one source claims that the detonating mechanisms for the devices were partly assembled utilizing parts from a television in room 1808 (specifically a remote control mechanism, the capacitor and circuit boards). However other sources, such as the Long War Journal, claim that:
Police have determined that Nurdin Aziz carried his bomb components into the hotel in a laptop bag and then assembled them in his room, according to Detik News. The contents of the bag set off the metal detectors; however, a security guard merely asked him if it was a laptop, and then waved him through. Nurdin’s bomb was packed with nuts and bolts to maximize its lethality.
Whichever is the case, the attackers managed to conceal their bomb-assembly from hotel staff for at least 24 hours. It has been suggested that the target of the first attack, in the Marriott, was a regular business meeting held by consultant which many of the city’s leading business people attended at a private lounge. The first attacker (Dani Dwi Permana) took the lift down from room 1808 to the lobby, carrying a backpack and a suitcase and appears to have known how to get to the private lounge where he then detonated. The second attacker (Nana Ikhwan Maulana) left the Marriott with Ibrohim, who helped him to gain access to the Ritz-Carlton via the staff entrance. Once inside the hotel he spent an hour walking around before he detonated himself in the hotel’s coffee shop, killing a waiter and two Dutch citizens.
On the morning of the attacks, Ibrohim had resigned from his job and requested that his last paycheck be used to pay back people to whom he owed money. Following the attacks he appears to have left the scene and returned to his safehouse on the outskirts of Jakarta. In August Ibrohim was killed in a stand-off with police.
The key element in this attack appears to have been the ability to recruit an individual within the hotel. This allowed the attackers to gather detailed intelligence regarding the layout of the hotel and presumably to identify potential targets within both buildings. The insider also facilitated access for one of the bombers via the Ritz-Carlton’s staff entrance.
It will be interesting to observe how Top’s death impacts on the ability of his organisation to mount further attacks, and indeed if Tanzim Qaedat al-Jihad will continue without his leadership and operational experience.