The news flashed up on the television that a raid was underway on the southern outskirts of Bandung by the formidable Densus 88, a branch of the national police whose role it is to shut down terrorism-related activity. We live in southern Bandung and were curious about the exact location of the raid, so I popped up onto the roof to have a look. As is normally the case when I pop up on the roof, I saw other roofs with wiry cages securing them from the perceived threat of robbers, a few distant mosques and the outline of the hazy mountains well to the south.
A quick search on twitter revealed the exact location of the raid to be Cigondewah Hilir. We’re familiar with Cigondewah as that is more or less where we live, but the Hilir portion of the village name threw us off — a quick look at google maps revealed a more precise location about 2km from our house. There was nothing more to do than to hop on one of our motorbikes and head down there for a look.
As we were winding our way through the narrow roads of this part of Bandung, it soon became clear that we were heading in the right direction. Residents were out in massive numbers chatting in front of their houses, walking down the road to the scene of the raid and generally being more active than one would normally expect in southern Bandung outside of prayer times.
The first sign that we were close to the raid was an increase in traffic. People were coming from all over to have a look — it’s culturally OK in Indonesia to be a gawker or rubbernecker. An ice cream vendor sat on the side of the road hoping for a slice of the action right across from a line of yellow police tape which signalled the start of the cordon. Residents were encouraging us to cross the police line to get a better look, so we asked the local police officer guarding that part of the cordon if we could pass and without much fuss he waved us through.
One hundred and fifty metres along the pock-marked narrow road we arrived at a large crowd and an imposing military style truck called the Barracuda. We asked some onlookers what we crowding around for and they indicated that just down the side alley in front of us were a group of terrorists and they were currently being raided by Densus 88.
Like much of Bandung and the rest of Java, Cigondewah is primarily made up of houses which have been built in a disorganised and piecemeal manner. A modest house constructed from wood sits next to a two-storey house made from concrete. A mosque sits at an angle to a nearby warung. A laneway leads to a metal gate with industrial materials behind it. This typical kampung-style orientation surely makes a raid a much more difficult proposition and that’s what appears to have ultimately led to the lengthy standoff that ensued.
From the reports we received, Densus 88 tried to negotiate with the men holed up inside the rented house but we were met with gun fire and bombs. When we arrived, we heard plenty of gun fire and what appeared to be some non-lethal shots. The fact that plenty of people were coughing and sneezing leads me to believe that tear gas was used and some news reports we read confirm this.
What was more interesting about the raid for me was the atmosphere around the kampung. Given that we arrived about 2 hours after the raid commenced, the scene had turned from what we guess was panic into one of jovial curiosity. Local residents gathered in their hundreds with kids in tow and watched as television crews turned up, police in riot gear manoeuvred and the occasional gun shot rang out. The crowd oohed and ahhed as one might expect from a crowd at a circus performance while resident comedians in our midst quipped one liners to break the slight increase in tension which filled the air.
More vehicles arrived. This time a Disaster Victim Identification van with a throng of official-looking personnel. A man carrying body bags. Men hauling a traditional gurney called a keranda.
It was getting late so we decided to head home, but stopped on the side of the small road to check out the news reports. Just as we sat down, a couple of police officers came running down the road with panicked looks on their faces and a crowd of about 20 followed. What were they running from? At that moment we didn’t know, so we ran too fearing an explosion or a terrorist going down in a blaze of glory. It turns out that the police were running to ensure there was a clear path for the one and only suspect who was arrested.
We headed back up to the small entrance to the alley which led to the house of the suspected terrorists to see what else was going on. A bomb deactivation truck moved into place, another military style armoured vehicle manoeuvred and two ambulances took their positions in the nearby pesantren (religious school). At this point the police started clearing the road of onlookers and we were all forced to stand behind a more strict cordon. Of course, after about 15 minutes the cordon was ignored and we continued our gawking from as close as was safe.
As the sun began to set, us gawkers decided to call it a day. We agreed that this truly was a uniquely Indonesian experience — a half day of rubber-necking, nongkrong (hanging out) and learning about “the way things are” here in Indonesia.