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Indonesia's Capital Struck By Suicide Bombers, Gunmen


And some news we are following this morning - yet another of the world's great cities has come under attack. This time it's Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia. Police say seven are dead, most of those the attackers themselves. We have on the line Joe Cochrane in Jakarta. He's a reporter with The International New York Times. Joe, good morning.

JOE COCHRANE: Good morning. How are you?

GREENE: I'm well. Thank you. Could you take us through what happened there this morning?

COCHRANE: Yes, absolutely. Well, it's nighttime here now, and it's the end of a very emotional and shocking day. The Indonesian capital, Jakarta, was just going through it's normal midmorning routine of heavy traffic - people in office buildings, people out shopping, people walking the streets - when gun and grenade attacks occurred right in the city center along the main thoroughfare. The target, everyone seems to agree now, was a outdoor police post by traffic police officers. There were at least seven attackers wielding handguns and also armed with grenades and possibly other explosives.

Amazingly, only two civilians died in the attack. Five attackers were killed, and four other were taken into custody. The Indonesian authorities are saying this was clearly a terrorist attack, and they're linking it to local violent, radical groups linked to the Islamic State.

GREENE: And have you seen them present any evidence of that? Or this is just something they're saying right now - that there are ISIS links here.

COCHRANE: Well, the police chief of the Jakarta provincial police, who himself is the former head of the country's elite police counterterrorism unit, told reporters some very specific information. This is General Tito Karnavian. He identified the ring leader of the group who carried out today's attack as an Indonesian suspected terrorist named Bahrun Naim. And he said this person is currently in Syria, and he is a leader of a Southeast Asian group of terrorists under ISIS named Katibah Nusantara. And this is specifically a Southeast Asian-based military unit of Malay speakers from Indonesia, Malaysia and other parts of Southeast Asian where they speak the Malay language. And according to experts, they pose a grave and increasing threat to the region.

GREENE: And, Joe, I know you covered this region. I mean, was it clear that there was an ISIS presence in Indonesia before, or does this come with some surprise?

COCHRANE: It's not come as a surprise because there have been a number of arrests in recent days, weeks and months of extremists linked to ISIS or linked to terrorist groups that are sympathizers or linked to ISIS. So certainly, the Indonesian counterterrorism authorities have been extremely active recently. There's been, like, 12 to 15 arrests in the past three or four weeks alone. And also, government officials and terrorist analysts said there was a heightened threat of a possible terrorist attack in Indonesia, which hadn't experienced one since 2009.

GREENE: I just want to be clear about one thing. I mean, there were some suggestions from an Indonesian official earlier that these attackers were imitating what happened in Paris, that there were some reports that some of these attackers blew themselves up at a Starbucks. But it appears that civilians were not being targeted here, right?

COCHRANE: No, from what I've seen, all the evidence indicates that civilians were clearly not being targeted. If they had been, the death toll could have been in the dozens, and luckily, only two civilians - well, unfortunately, two civilians were killed, but it was only two. If they had wanted to target civilians, they could have walked into any of the restaurants or hotels or office lobbies in the vicinity and done that. Clearly, they were going after the police.

GREENE: All right. That's reporter Joe Cochrane with The International New York Times speaking to us about attacks this morning in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta, which officials in Indonesian say were carried out by attackers with links to ISIS. Joe, thank you very much.

COCHRANE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.