TANGERANG, Indonesia (AP) — Indonesian police said three suspected militants who were planning a holiday season suicide bombing were killed in a gunbattle Wednesday on the outskirts of Jakarta in the second imminent attack to be foiled in less than two weeks.
A residential neighborhood was evacuated after bombs were found in a house rented by the men. Police said they had found five low-explosive bombs made from potassium nitrate and defused three so far. Indonesia's TVOne reported numerous controlled explosions have occurred at the location.
The men planned to stage their attack on Christmas Day or New Year's Eve, said Jakarta police chief Mochamad Iriawan. They were to stab police officers in order to attract a crowd and then detonate bombs, he said.
The three men were killed during a violent confrontation with the police's anti-terror squad in a leafy residential compound in Tangerang, a Jakarta satellite city, after refusing an appeal from authorities to surrender.
National Police spokesman Rikwanto said the men threw explosives and fired guns at police. A fourth man, who was arrested in the neighborhood, had led police to the house used by the militants.
"Every year, Christmas and New Year's events are the target of terrorists to carry out amaliyah," Rikwanto told a news conference, using an Arabic term that's a byword for suicide bombing in militant circles.
Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, has carried out a sustained crackdown on Islamic militants since the 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202 people. But a new threat has emerged in the past several years from militants who have switched allegiance to the Islamic State group and from new recruits. An attack in the capital Jakarta in January by IS sympathizers killed eight people, including the attackers.
Police said the holiday season plot was uncovered during the interrogation of militants arrested Dec. 10 who were planning a suicide bomb attack on a guard-changing ceremony at the presidential palace in Jakarta the next day.
Police have said that foiled plot, in which a woman was to be the suicide bomber, was orchestrated by Bahrun Naim, an Indonesian with the Islamic State group in Syria. They also say Naim was behind a bomb lab that was raided last month in West Java and contained enough explosive materials to make bombs three times more powerful than those used in the Bali bombings.
A revamp of Indonesia's anti-terrorism law has languished in parliament this year and may not be seriously deliberated again until the second half of next year due to rising Muslim populism, Achmad Sukarsono, an analyst with Eurasia Group, wrote in a report. Police are particularly concerned by lack of legal powers to deal with Indonesian militants who return from Syria.
"Security forces will have to double down on surveillance efforts with the currently inadequate legal support, and the probability of them failing to prevent a terror strike will rise," Sukarsono said.
Agus Wartono, owner of the house rented to the slain men, said they became his tenants about two weeks ago. They presented themselves as drivers for motorbike taxi hailing app Go-Jek and wore its trademark green jackets, he said.
The Australian government's advice to travelers, updated Wednesday, said the terrorist threat level in Indonesia remains high. It notes that authorities have arrested people who were allegedly in the advanced states of attack planning.
Awi Setiyono, a police spokesman, said that one of the slain militants, who he named as Omen, was a convicted murderer who was radicalized in prison by a militant who had plotted an attack against the Myanmar embassy in Jakarta in 2013.
The two other slain men were members of Jemaah Anshorut Daulah, an extremist group led by radical cleric Aman Abdurrahman.
The anti-terror squad also arrested a suspected militant in North Sumatra's Deli Serdang district on Wednesday and another in Payakumbuh, a town in the neighboring province of West Sumatra. Police said they were linked to radicals who were arrested in August for an embryonic plot to fire a rocket at Singapore from the nearby Indonesian island of Batam.
Wright reported from Jakarta, Indonesia. AP writers Niniek Karmini and Ali Kotarumalos in Jakarta contributed to this report.