Dramatic scenes erupted at Thamrin Street, a bustling shopping area in Jakarta, turning it into a battleground. Anti-terror squads and the gunmen exchanged fire near Sarinah shopping mall that hosts high rise offices and luxury hotels. Mangled bodies were seen lying on the streets as security forces moved in, with regular reports of gunfire.
“We believe there are no more attackers around Sarinah. We have taken control,” Jakarta police spokesman Col. Muhammad Iqbal said five hours after the attack began.
The attackers first set off explosions at a Starbucks café and then engaged in the deadly gunfire which went on for at least an hour and a half.
Tri Seranto, a bank security guard, said that he saw at least five attackers, including three who triggered explosions at Starbucks. Other witnesses said they saw at least three bodies on the sidewalk after the fighting ended.
Policemen had cordoned off the area and were seen taking cover behind vehicles while trying to defend themselves from the gunfire coming from the other side.
Office workers watched in fright from high-rise buildings even as there were warnings of snipers in the area.
Gen. Anton Charilyan, a National Police spokesman, said the attack involved an unknown number of assailants with grenades and guns. He also said that the attack was very similar to the “terror acts” in Paris.
This was the first major attack that Jakarta saw since the 2009 bombings of two hotels that killed 7 people and injured more than 50.
The city police were on alert as several warnings were sent out in the recent weeks that said that Islamic militants were planning a big attack.
Even though no one has claimed responsibility for the attack so far, Indonesian authorities believe ISIS was behind it. The police is said to have received information two months ago about a warning from the Islamic State group regarding a strike in Indonesia.
“This act is clearly aimed at disturbing public order and spreading terror among people…The state, the nation and the people should not be afraid of, and be defeated by, such terror acts,” Indonesian President Joko Widodo said in a statement.
Reports also said that the attack site was not far from the Presidential Palace and a cluster of embassies including French and US.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has also condemned the attack.
“My thoughts are with those who lost their loved ones in the reprehensible attack in Jakarta. I pray for speedy recovery of the injured,” PM Modi tweeted.
(With inputs from agencies)