Several suicide bombers targeted churches in Surabaya, Indonesia this morning. At least 11 people were killed and many more injured. This is not the first suicide bombing in Indonesia, but it is the first carried out by a family to include children. The father, identified by police at Dita, crashed his vehicle carrying bombs into the Surabaya Center Pentecostal Church. Two sons, identified by police as Alif (16) and Yusuf (18), detonated a bomb at the Santa Maria Church. A woman, identified by authorities as Puji Kuswanti, attempted to enter another church with two children ages 9 and 12. She was stopped by security and detonated her bomb there killing herself and the two children according to reports. Although this is not the first instance children were used in a suicide bombing, this was the first time in Indonesia. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack through their news agency ‘Amaq.
The use of children in suicide bombings is not a common tactic used by groups; although there have been cases where woman donned pregnancy prosthetics to conceal explosives and to circumvent security. In December 2016, a female suicide bomber with two infants was stopped in Tripoli, Libya, detonated her explosives after the infants were taken to an ambulance. On December 21, 2016, a young girl, believed to be 9 years old, carried out a suicide bombing at a police station in Damascus, Syria. Shortly after the attack, there was a video released by Jabhat al-Nusra in which a man and woman are teaching their daughters of how to commit a suicide attack. After saying goodbye to their parents, they walk into the police station and detonate themselves. Although there is no confirmation that the children in the video were in fact the ones that carried out the attack at the police station, a 9-year-old girl did carry out the attack.
Boko Haram, for example, has used children as bombers, some as young as 8 years old. They have also had bombers using babies as decoys to avoid suspicion. In November 2016, another female suicide bomber carrying a baby on her back was shot at a checkpoint causing the explosives to detonate, killing her and the baby. A few months later, security forces in Nigeria arrested four women believed to be attempting a suicide bombing. One of the would-be bombers was also carrying a baby.
The use of children as bombers has increased, however, this is still not a common tactic. One of the reasons is the groups still need support for their cause. If public support declines, the group will desist from using such tactics. Using children in these types of attacks may also show signs of the groups decline in power by having to resort to carrying out attacks by any means available. The attacks in Indonesia today show the desperation of the Islamic State by using children in suicide bombing attacks.