JAKARTA, Indonesia -- The Muslim militant who wounded the country's security minister in a brazen knife attack was under government surveillance for some time but police did not attempt to arrest him because he didn't seem to pose an immediate threat, a police official said Friday.
National police spokesman Brig. Gen. Dedi Prasetyo said Syahril Alamsyah, who uses the nom de guerre Abu Rara, apparently feared that he and his militant wife would be arrested soon. So he decided to attack the security minister, Wiranto, in the western Indonesian province of Banten on Thursday without even knowing who the top security official was.
Wiranto, a 72-year-old former armed forces chief, sustained two stab wounds in the stomach but was in stable condition and recovering in an army hospital in the Indonesian capital Jakarta. The attack in broad daylight came just over a week before the Oct. 20 inauguration of President Joko Widodo for his second five-year term in office.
Widodo has called the attacker a terrorist and urged people to combat radicalism.
Prasetyo spoke in a televised news conference amid fears terrorist threats may be reemerging in the world's largest Muslim-majority nation, which has a history of bloody militant attacks. Militants set off bombs that killed 202 mostly Western and Asian tourists in 2002 on the resort island of Bali and last year, suicide bombings by members of a family in three churches left 23 dead in the second-largest Indonesian city of Surabaya.
"We couldn't arrest him because the police did not detect any preparation or real evidence that Abu Rara was breaking the law," Prasetyo said.
Wiranto had just stepped out of his car and was welcomed with a handshake by a local police chief in Menes community in Baten's Pandeglang town when Alamsyah dashed forward and stabbed Wiranto while the militant's wife, Fitri Andriana, lunged at the police chief. A third man was wounded by Alamsyah. Bodyguards wrestled Alamsyah to the ground and tied his hands behind his back while others helped Wiranto, who had fallen, back to his SUV, Prasetyo and other officials said.
Alamsyah and his wife were married in a religious ceremony presided by Fazri Pahlawan, the suspected leader of Jamaah Ansharut Daulah, or JAD, a militant group aligned with the Islamic State group. Pahlawan, who uses the guerrilla name Abu Zee, trained Alamsyah on launching attacks, according to Praseto.
When Pahlawan was arrested last month, Alamsyah feared he could be next and decided to launch an attack. He found an opportunity Thursday when he saw a helicopter carrying somebody he thought was an important official, who turned out to be Wiranto, Prasetyo said.
As chief of the armed forces from 1998 to 1999, when the national police force was still under military control, Wiranto oversaw security and defense at a time when student protests erupted nationwide. They eventually led to the fall of strongman President Suharto.
In 2003, Wiranto, then already retired from the military, and seven other former military officials were indicted by a U.N. panel for alleged crimes against humanity for atrocities in East Timor after the region voted for independence from Indonesia in a 1999 referendum. He denied the allegations.
News assistant Ismira Lutfia Tisnadibrata contributed to this report.