People hold placards reading "We are not afraid" during a rally at the scene of Thursday's gun and bomb attack in central Jakarta, Indonesia, January 15, 2016. 
Darren Whiteside / Reuters

On January 14, militants killed four civilians and wounded at least 20 in a terrorist attack in Jakarta, in the first successful operation that the self-proclaimed Islamic State (also known as ISIS) has launched in Southeast Asia. For several months, security officials from several Southeast Asian governments had been warning that ISIS supporters might mount an attack in the region. The signs were ominous: increased chatter on Malay and Indonesian language sites expressing support for ISIS, a steady stream of Southeast Asians departing for conflict zones in Syria and Iraq, and the arrest of ISIS sympathizers in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore. Indonesian counterterrorism authorities had already received intelligence that militants were planning to mount attacks over the holiday period a couple of weeks earlier, which prompted the arrest of several militants and foiled a potential earlier attack. 

When it comes to terrorism, it never takes more than one successful attack to trigger panic in society and overreaction by anxious governments. But when the January 14 attack finally did come, the Indonesian people met it with a spirit of defiance, rallying round the hashtag “We Are Not Afraid.” Meanwhile, during a visit to the scene soon after the attacks, Indonesian President Joko Widodo condemned

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  • JOSEPH CHINYONG LIOW is Dean of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, and Lee Kuan Yew Chair in Southeast Asia Studies at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. He is the author of Religion and Nationalism in Southeast Asia, to be published later this year by Cambridge University Press.

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