By Kanupriya Kapoor and Darren Whiteside
JAKARTA, Jan 14 – Jeremy Douglas hadn’t seen anything like what he was witnessing from his office window at the United Nations building in central Jakarta: police exchanging gunfire with militants amid a series of blasts at a key intersection of Indonesia’s capital.
“Serious exchange of fire in downtown #Jakarta. Didn’t experience this in 3.5 years in #Pakistan,” Douglas, the regional representative of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, wrote in a series of tweets on Thursday.
“Amazing how some folks are walking and some running. Kind of a denial or something,” he said in another tweet, referring to the pandemonium on the street below that took almost three hours to bring under control.
He had just gotten out of his car to enter the U.N. building with a colleague “when a massive #bomb went off”, he tweeted. “Chaos and we’re going into lockdown.”
Indonesia has seen attacks by Islamist militants before, but a coordinated assault by a team of suicide bombers and gunmen is unprecedented and has echoes of the sieges seen in Mumbai seven years ago and in Paris last November.
The attack began around 10:30 a.m. with a blast just outside a Starbucks café near the intersection. A police post in the intersection by the cafe was also damaged in one of the explosions.
Police said they suspected at least three suicide bombers were involved. The numbers kept changing in the hours after the attack, but by late afternoon officials said five militants had died and two had been arrested. One policeman was also killed.
Reuters photographer Darren Whiteside, who was near the Starbucks when the blast went off, said debris was strewn about the street 30-40 meters in front of the café and he saw a police officer’s body being dragged away.
Police responded in force within minutes, Whiteside said.
Black armored cars screeched to a halt in front of the Starbucks and sniper teams were deployed near Sarinah’s, Jakarta’s oldest department store, across the street from the United Nations building. Helicopters flew overhead, as police tried to hold back a huge crowd around the scene, he said. Dozens of military troops were also deployed at the scene.
Starbucks said in a statement one customer was injured in the attack and all of its employees were safe.
M.Y. Farooqui, general manager with the Dubai-based firm OHME, was having breakfast at the Sari Pan Pacific Hotel next to Sarinah’s when he heard a massive blast. “Hotel is locked up from all sides and no one is allowed to go out or in. May God bless us,” he wrote in a Facebook message to a Reuters reporter.
The injured were taken to nearby Gatot Subroto hospital, where a whiteboard was set up with their names written on it as they were brought in.
A woman, who hospital staff said was related to the dead police officer, came in crying, accompanied by a small child wearing an elementary school uniform.
Arriving at the scene after the shooting stopped, Indonesia’s security chief said it was too early to say who was behind the most dramatic militant attack on the Muslim-majority country since 2009, but said such events were no surprise.
“Similar events have happened in Paris, Mumbai, New York, they can happen here too,” Chief Security Minister Luhut Pandjaitan told reporters.
Daily life mostly continued as normal across the usually traffic-clogged city, and the hashtag #KamiTidakTakut—”we are not afraid”—was trending among Indonesian Twitter users.