Monas blast raises questions over Indonesia’s national security

The site of a blast in the National Monument (Monas) area on Tuesday morning.(JP/Vela Andapita). Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

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JAKARTA, Dec 4, 2019, The Jakarta Post. A blast that occurred within the National Monument (Monas) area in Central Jakarta, right across from the Home Ministry building and just a few meters away from the Merdeka Palace on Tuesday morning has raised questions about national security, The Jakarta Post reported.

The police have confirmed that the blast, which occurred at 7:05 a.m. in a public area commonly used for, among other things, recreation, exercise and public gatherings, was caused by a smoke grenade.

Indonesian Military (TNI) personnel Sgt. Maj. Fajar and Chief Pvt. Gunawan, who were doing their regular morning exercise with other TNI personnel in the area, were injured and rushed to Gatot Subroto Military Hospital.

Security analyst Stanislaus Riyanta said he called on the police and the military to speed up the investigation. He called on them to answer two important questions surrounding the incident: How did the grenade reach that location and who did it?

“The way I see it, it was not a terrorist act. There were no clear motives, no targets and no actors,” he told The Jakarta Post via phone.

Jakarta Police chief Insp. Gen. Gatot Eddy Pramono has asked the public not to exaggerate the incident as it was just a smoke grenade.

“This is just a smoke grenade, don’t exaggerate this. The grenade could belong to our [security] personnel, [who] left it there,” Gatot said, stressing that it was an “ordinary” accident.

However, Stanislaus said that even though it was a low-explosive grenade and “not dangerous” police needed to investigate who took it there.

“If they were using it for practice, they should have done it in a clear area, not in a public place like Monas,” he added.

Stanislaus went on to say that the military and the police should work together in the investigation because the victims were military personnel and the incident was a national security concern.

One day before the blast, the area was the site of a gathering of Muslim activists who were commemorating the third anniversary of a Dec. 2, 2016 rally held to demand the prosecution of then-Jakarta governor Basuki “Ahok” Tjahaja Purnama for blasphemy.

Stanislaus, however, said Tuesday’s blast might not be related to the gathering on Monday.

Personnel of the police’s Gegana bomb squad and the Indonesian Automatic Fingerprint Identification System (Inafis) unit were deployed to investigate the site of the blast. By 10:30 a.m. the same day, the area had been cleared and the police line had been removed.

Jakarta Police spokesperson Sr. Comr. Yusri Yunus said smoke grenades were usually used for exercises by security personnel. He even likened their explosive strength to firecrackers.

“Just like firecrackers, [smoke grenades] are not dangerous if they [go off] a long distance away. However, if one goes off while someone is holding it, their hands will be burned,” he said.

Jakarta Military Command spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Czi Zulhandrie S. Mara echoed Gatot, saying it was not an extraordinary occurrence. He said the grenade was similar to flares being lit at a soccer match.

When asked how the blast could have injured people if it was in fact not dangerous, Zulhandrie said, “Well, we are not sure.”

“What actually happened to the victims, what were they doing. We still can’t ask them at the moment,” he added, noting that the victims were still being treated in the hospital.

He claimed that such grenades were sold publicly, implying there was a possibility that the grenade belonged neither to the military nor the police.

In contrast, defense analyst Beni Sukadis said the chance of the grenade belonging to a civilian was small. He alleged that the grenade was placed there on purpose.

“I don’t think it was a civilian who put it there, unless they bought it from military personnel,” he said as quoted by kompas.com.

“I also don’t think the victims were the perpetrators. They were wearing sports clothes to exercise; they weren’t carrying any weapons whatsoever,” he added.

Despite the short distance between the blast site and President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s office, the Merdeka Palace said there would be no additional security measures and that the Presidential Security Detail (Paspampres) would work as usual.

Paspampres commander Maj. Gen. Maruli Simanjuntak said his personnel had implemented measures that could anticipate such incidences in their daily operations.

“We are strong enough,” he claimed.

Presidential spokesperson Fadjroel Rachman said Jokowi, shortly after being informed about the incident, continued with his schedule as normal at the State Palace. He held meetings with the ministers and prepared for a presidential lecture.

Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan, in response to the blast, immediately summoned the head of the Monas management unit to strenghten its security measures.

“I have instructed the unit to comb the Monas area. Should anyone find a suspicious object, they must report to the nearest security personnel,” he told the press.

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