JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesian militants captured in recent police raids were planning a series of attacks including a Mumbai-style hotel siege targeting foreigners and an assault on the president at an independence day ceremony, police said on Friday.
The men also planned to target U.S. President Barack Obama, who is scheduled to visit the country later this year, and plotted the attacks to install sharia law in the world’s most populous Muslim nation, officials said.
Police have arrested and killed several suspected jihadists during a series of raids across Indonesia since February when they discovered a militant training camp in the Sumatran province of Aceh.
National Police Chief Bambang Hendarso Danuri told reporters that an Aceh-based militant group had planned to attack President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, government officials, and state guests attending an independence day event in August, and would then declare Indonesia an Islamic state ruled by sharia law.
“They planned to attack and murder state officials at the August 17 celebrations. There, they saw all of the state officials as assassination targets, including the state guests attending the ceremony,” Danuri said.
A security source involved in the investigation said that the attackers had planned to lay siege to the palace on Independence Day, staging a coup.
The militants also planned to attack and occupy hotels used by certain communities, understood to mean foreigners, copying the hotel sieges in Mumbai. The targets included U.S. citizens in the capital Jakarta and Java island.
A map of Singapore was found among the militants’ possessions, Danuri said.
The plan to launch the Independence Day attack “confirms they were more interested in targeted assassinations than bombings,” said Sidney Jones, a Jakarta-based expert on Islamist militancy.
“But it’s actually very, very hard to pull off something like that so I don’t know how far these operations would have succeeded,” she added.
Southeast Asian Islamic militant group Jemaah Islamiah and its offshoots have pulled off several bomb attacks in Indonesia over nearly a decade.
Several of the leaders and key bomb-makers have been killed or imprisoned, while Indonesia’s anti-terror unit has captured hundreds of militants, reducing their effectiveness.
But recent intelligence shows the groups are forging closer links and adopting new strategies.
Earlier on Friday, an expert on militants said that U.S. President Barack Obama, who is due to visit Indonesia in June, was one of several suspected targets of the militants.
Intelligence expert Mardigu Wowi Prasantyo, who is close to the police investigation, said books and documents found in the raids suggested the militants planned an attack on Obama, possibly during his visit to Indonesia.
“They did not say it, but this was evident in their books and documents, that the leader of America was their enemy and should be attacked whenever possible,” he told Reuters by phone.
Obama, who spent part of his childhood in Jakarta, was expected to visit Indonesia in March but delayed his trip until mid-June so he could oversee the passage of the U.S. health bill.
Another intelligence expert told Reuters last year that militants planned to use snipers to attack Obama’s convoy during his visit.
Additional reporting by Telly Nathalia; Editing by Sara Webb and Sanjeev Miglani