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Bali, Indonesia: Security Outlook Following Fire at Benoa Port

Overview of Incident

A fire started shortly after midnight on 9 Jul 2018 at Benoa Port, which is right beside the tourist hub of Kuta in Bali. Benoa Port is a multipurpose port with a passenger ferry terminal for local tours of Bali and general cargo. Nearly forty boats were destroyed but no injuries were reported. The fire lasted past mid-morning. Authorities said that investigations are still ongoing.

The Terrorism Context

The incident in Bali follows a period of heightened concern over terrorism in Indonesia. The attacks on Surabaya from 13 – 14 May 2018 have demonstrated an evolution in terrorist tactics whereby the attacks were planned by three families who knew each other and who were willing to use the whole family unit, even women and children, as suicide bombers. The attacks also signal an increasing diversity of targets by Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD), whereby there appears to be a refocus on civilians after having targeted security forces extensively in preceding years.

There are also fears that the terrorism threat to Indonesia will be aggravated by the decision taken on 22 Jun 2018 to execute radical cleric and JAD spiritual leader Aman Abdurrahman, with concerns that Abdurrahman will be elevated to martyrdom following his death which will allow him to serve as a beacon for jihadists to rally around.

Bali itself is not new to terrorist attacks. In Oct 2002, bomb attacks in the tourist district of Kuta killed 202 people and injured 240. Three years later in Oct 2005, car bombs and a suicide bomber killed 20 and injured more than 100. Both attacks targeted tourist hotspots and were perpetrated by Jemaah Islamiyah (JI). JI was reported by Reuters to have become active once more in 2016, supporting the Islamic State in Syria. Lately, the Surabaya attacks have rekindled concerns over the terrorist threat to Bali.

Incident Unlikely to be Terrorism

Despite the security context, the burning of the boats at Benoa appears unlikely to be linked to terrorism at the moment. No terrorist group has claimed responsibility for the fire, and authorities have not suggested any terrorist motive. Eyewitnesses have stated the cause of the fire to be an electrical fault and analysts have noted in relation to the incident that accidental fires in Indonesia are common due to the poor enforcement of fire safety regulations.

Even if the incident is not motivated by terrorism, however, it still raises concerns over the security and safety protocols at Benoa port, as well as other maritime facilities on Bali. The possibility of copycat attacks by terrorists cannot be discounted as well.

Advice for Visitors

No travel advisory has been issued against going to Bali relating to the incident. Travel advisories have been issued for Bali, however, in relation to the ongoing eruption at Mount Agung, which erupted once more on 9 Jul, and visitors are cautioned to avoid the volcano and its 4km exclusion zone. The governments of Australia and New Zealand have also mentioned Bali as being one of the areas in Indonesia with a higher terrorism risk, alongside Jakarta and Surabaya. As such, all visitors are advised to maintain a high degree of caution and awareness, especially in areas where Westerners congregate. Travellers are also advised to remain cognisant of the safety risks and emergency evacuation options when using public facilities and infrastructure.

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