JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesia’s chief security minister was stabbed on Thursday by a man authorities suspect had been radicalized by Islamic State ideology, and underwent surgery for his wounds, the first time such a senior politician has been attacked in recent years.
Indonesia, which is the world’s biggest Muslim-majority country, is grappling with a resurgence in militancy and hundreds have detained under tighter new anti-terrorism laws since the beginning of 2019.
Television footage showed minister Wiranto slumping to the ground beside his car after the attack in Pandeglang, in Banten province, west of the capital Jakarta on the island of Java.
A police photograph showed Wiranto, a former general, being carried on a stretcher into a nearby hospital. The minister had suffered two wounds to his stomach, said Firmansyah, director of the Berkah Hospital.
Tomsi Tohir, Banten police chief, earlier said the minister had been conscious and described his condition as stable before he was flown to Jakarta by helicopter for further treatment.
President Joko Widodo said that security had to be improved and the network behind the attack dismantled.
“I have ordered the chief of police and the head of intelligence, supported by the Indonesian army, to investigate thoroughly and to punish the perpetrators,” Widodo told reporters after visiting the minister at the military hospital in Jakarta, where Wiranto was undergoing a surgery.
The head of the hospital said the surgery should take about two hours.
Police had arrested a man and a woman they suspected were a couple, and seized sharp weapons they were carrying, including knives and a pair of scissors.
The minister had been in the area to open a new building at a university and people were lining up to shake his hand and take selfies with him before the attack around noon, said Tohir.
“For the time being, the suspicion from Banten Police, is the man is likely to have been exposed to IS radicalism while the woman is still being investigated,” said national police spokesman Dedi Prasetyo.
Officers wrestled the suspect to the ground and an image supplied by police showed the suspect, who was wearing a black shirt and light trousers, with his arms and legs secured.
If the attack was staged by militants it “represents a serious escalation in aspirations”, said Sidney Jones of the Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict.
Aside from a failed attack on the South Sulawesi governor in 2011, it was the first time in recent history that militants had been this close to an assassination of such a senior figure in Indonesia, she said.
The government scrambled to tighten its security laws after a series of suicide bombings linked to the Islamic State-inspired Jemaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD) group killed more than 30 people in the city of Surabaya last year.
Wiranto, 72, who like many Indonesians uses just one name, has served as chief security minister in President Joko Widodo’s cabinet since 2016.
The minister is considered a product of the late former strongman Suharto’s “New Order” administration, which gave a big political role to the military and stifled opponents.
His appointment drew criticism from rights groups for his involvement as chief of the armed forces in the bloody upheaval in East Timor.
Wiranto was indicted by a U.N. panel over the bloodshed surrounding East Timor’s 1999 independence vote, when about 1,000 people were killed. He denied any wrongdoing in East Timor.
Reporting by Jakarta bureau; Editing by Ed Davies, Robert Birsel and Alex Richardson