The Jakarta Terrorist Attacks

Written by Greg Ellifritz

Topics: News and Tactical Advice

  • SumoMe



One of the terrorists with a pistol. His job is to provide security to allow the other suicide bombers to get to their place of detonation. Photo from linked article.


Last Thursday, ISIS terrorists conducted a series of coordinated attacks in Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia.  As has been the trend worldwide, these coordinated or “symphonic” attacks involved guns, bombs, and grenades.  Up to 14 terrorists conducted the attacks on seven locations in a period of three hours.  If you haven’t seen the news about this attack, check out the following two news articles:


Isis claims responsibility for Jakarta gun and bomb attacks

The terrorist toolkit: ISIS fanatic’s chilling arsenal of bombs, guns, ammunition


Why should we care about what happens in a third world country thousands of miles from home?  Because that’s where these terrorists refine their tactics.  What we are seeing over there is likely to be what we will see in the United States soon.


What makes these attacks any different than other terrorist attacks worldwide?  Despite being characterized as “amateurish” by police officials, these attacks had several elements that we have not seen in other recent attacks.  Let’s take a quick look:



Lots of attackers armed with both bombs and guns.  Many recent symphonic attacks have involved groups of two to six terrorists.  Initial reports of this one indicate that there were up to 14.  Obviously, the more attackers involved, the more difficult it is to stop the attack.  This level of violence would be extremely difficult to stop by an American police department.  Most police divisions are cut to the bare minimum.  There just aren’t that many cops working in a particular area at the same time.


My suburban agency covers 10 square miles and 34,000 residents with just five officers out on the street.  One of these attacks (let alone seven) would completely tie up all of our manpower.  We can call for backup from surrounding agencies, but that takes time.  Every additional minute of time in an attack like this means a higher body count.  Citizens need to recognize that the police cannot protect you from an event of this magnitude.  Eventually, we’ll get enough cops there and kill the terrorists.  But until that time, you are on your own.


Check out the photo below from one of the linked articles.  That’s the armament that two of the dead terrorists had remaining in their backpacks.  These guys were rolling heavy.  Do you think you might need to carry something more than a NAA mini revolver if you want to be a player in this game?  I do.


Check out the loadout carried by two of the bombers. The rest was blown up.

Check out the loadout carried by two of the bombers. The rest was blown up.


Before I move on, one quick point.  The items above were taken from the terrorists’ BACKPACKS.  Note the BACKPACK on the terrorist pictured at the start of the article.  Taking a look at all the major recent terrorist attacks and bombings worldwide will show some amazing similarities.  Almost all of the attackers carried gear in backpacks as they were conducting their attacks.  That might be one of the few pre-incident indicators you might be able to pick up.  How many people wear backpacks in malls or while walking down the street?  Unless you are on a college campus, not many.  If you see multiple young adult males acting in concert with each other while wearing backpacks, it might be time to make yourself scarce.


They initiated the attack with a bombing of a police station.  Remember how I talked above about not having enough cops to stop an attack like this?  What do you think happens when half of them are taken out before the main attack even begins?  This is becoming a prime strategy for terrorists and active killers everywhere.  Start the attack by taking out anyone who may be a threat to your plans.


Results of the grenade and suicide bomb attack on the police substation. Picture from the liked Daily Mail article.

Results of the grenade and suicide bomb attack on the police substation. Picture from the linked Daily Mail article.


What actionable advice can we draw from this tactic?  One is to avoid police stations!  They are no longer the refuge of safety that you might think they are.  Any cops working in substations near valuable terrorist targets need to make sure that they are prepared to deal with this kind of attack.  Very few are.  The cops in police stations are often unarmed.  Most police stations have holding cells.  Cops have to lock up their guns for safety reasons when handling prisoners inside the cell area.  Many other cops in the station are assigned administrative or investigative roles.  They often are not wearing body armor and may not even be carrying guns.  That has to stop.


Second, recognize that the attackers want to take out any potential resistance before the start of the attack.  The concept is important for armed citizens and off duty cops as well.  Don’t look like a cop!  What do you think these folks would do if they “made” you as a cop?  That’s right.  You’re shot in the back of the head as the attack commences.  Don’t wear cop clothes.  Save your 5.11 gear for the range.  No FOP placards or “thin blue line” logos on your personal vehicles.  Be the “gray man.”


And citizens, what do you think they would do if they spotted an open carrier?  Do you think the outcome would be any different than what they would do to an off duty cop?  You are a threat to their operation.  You will be taken out first.  I know you think that you practice perfect awareness at all times.  You may be pretty situationally tuned in, but can you detect ALL 14 TERRORISTS?  Doubtful.  Open carry makes you a target.  Don’t do it.


Suicide bombs and grenades.  This factor compounds the response from either the cops or an armed citizen.  In a recent study of suicide bombings in Israel, they concluded that a distance of 15 meters (roughly 50 feet) is the “break even” safety zone for a suicide bomb blast.  That means that if you are within 15 meters of the bomb when it blows up, you are more likely to die than to live.  Beyond 15 meters and you are more likely to live than die.


One of the bomber was being filmed as he detonated in this case.  Watch the video of the detonation below.  You don’t want to be anywhere near that blast.



What does this mean for you first responders?  It means that engagement at a long distance is required if you don’t want to be blown up!  How often have you been practicing your shots from beyond the 15 yard line?


Security personnel mixed in to the crowd.  Suicide bombers worldwide often have “security” folks or “handlers” nearby to take out any resistance that threatens the bombing mission’s success.  The terrorists used this technique here as well.  From one of the linked news articles:


“After the initial shootout two attackers appeared from behind a crowd. One then produced a handgun and shot an officer, while his accomplice fired on another.”


Two attackers blended in with the crowd and waited for the police to engage the primary active killer.  While the cops were shooting at what they assumed was the sole terrorist, two more popped up and fired on the cops.


That’s tough to deal with.  Most of us will get “tunnel vision” in any gunfight.  It’s hard to focus on other things when you are trying to put rounds into a man who is shooting at you.  Very few of us has the ability to multi-task to such a degree that we could pick up any of these “security” people.


If you choose to engage a terrorist in an event like this, put him down as soon as possible.  Then immediately start scanning for more targets.  It might be smart to get your back up against a wall before you choose to engage so as to ensure that no one will whack you in the back of the head while you are lining up your sights.


Sniper Overwatch.  From the Guardian article: “Explosions were captured on video in the forecourt of an adjacent Starbucks, where a gunman was seen on the roof.”


This is a whole new level of danger for anyone trying to respond.  It’s bad enough that there are unidentified terrorists mixed in to the crowd, but when there are snipers on the roof waiting to take you out, your problem becomes exponentially difficult to handle.


For the cops out there, look up!  We don’t do it enough.  Deploying countersnipers to the high ground during an event like this should also be a police priority, but few departments will have the resources or trained personnel to do that.


Let’s lay out the scenario.  Look at the photo below (from the Daily Mail) of the initial gunman in the attack.  Picture yourself at the scene.  You are an armed citizen or off duty cop.  If you were in the position of the camera man, could you take that shot?




It doesn’t look that tough, right?  Full-on torso on an adult male from maybe 40 feet away?  I’m betting most of you reading this could take him out.  But let’s take a look at the unexamined complications here:


  • What is your backstop in the event you miss?  A crowd of several hundred people.  Still want to take that shot?
  • See the backpack on his chest?  It’s full of home made bombs and grenades.  If you hit it, they will probably blow up.  Where are you aiming?  Center mass?  Boom.  You’re dead.  You are inside the 15 meter “break even” zone. Game over.
  • What you don’t see is the two other terrorists in the crowd behind you.  As soon as you engage this guy, you get shot in the back of the head.  Bang.  Game over.
  • If you happen to not hit any innocents, avoid shooting the bomb, take out the shooter and his two accomplices, you think you are the hero.  Wrong.  You didn’t see the sniper on the roof.  Game over.  Again.



Do you see how the odds are stacked against you in a situation like this?  Look, I get it.  We all want to do the right thing, save the girl, and win the medal.  I want to do that, too.  But I also want to make it home to the people I love.  That isn’t very likely if I jump into a fight like this with the my five-shot .38 snub.


All of us who carry guns need a little wake-up call.  Stopping a terrorist attack like this isn’t heroic, it’s a suicide mission.  Is it worth it?


If you are willing to engage, you have my respect and admiration.  I commend your bravery.  If you make it out alive, I’ll buy you a beer….but I think the more likely scenario is that I’ll be drinking a beer by myself at your wake.


Terrorist tactics are becoming ever more lethal.  Dealing with something like this isn’t quite the same thing as drawing down on a crackhead with a broken bottle in a back alley.  As my hero says: “A man’s gotta know his limitations.”   Fighting 14 terrorists who are armed with bombs and grenades who also have sniper overwatch?  That exceeds my personal limitations.  You may be studlier than I am, but I bet it exceeds yours as well.


A smart armed man or woman caught up in a situation like this should be looking to get the hell out.  You aren’t playing the leading role in “Die Hard.”  This isn’t your mission.


Draw your gun, but keep it hidden.

Seek immediate cover.

Run away from the attack using a series of short sprints in between other points of cover if possible.

If a terrorist pops up and hinders your escape, shoot him in the face and keep running.

Repeat as necessary until you are out of the danger zone.



Unless I’m at work, have my plate armor, an AR-15, and a whole bunch of my buddies with me, that’s my plan.  I think the smart gun owner should consider something similar.





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11 Comments For This Post I'd Love to Hear Yours!

  1. Old 1811 says:

    As always, interesting news you can use.
    Do you have any info/insight about the recent Calgary incident, which the news is treating as a random bar shoot-up (by two guys who just happen to be named Mohammed)? (We all know how often bars get shot up in Canada.)

  2. John says:

    Preach it, Greg!

    Also, the complexity of an attack like this will only further delay EMS response, so having a trauma-response competency as part of your skillset is critical, either to attend to yourself or to others.

  3. Rich Wells says:

    Ok, so one thing bothers me and therefor I have to play devil’s advocate.

    “Stopping a terrorist attack like this isn’t heroic, it’s a suicide mission.”

    Yes, I understand the “like this” aspect but how does one know at a given moment? Whatever happens I’m just supposed to tuck tail and run? Yes, I understand my response is different for me versus me + family.

    Therefor my counter argument will be: so we just let them run free doing as they wish with no resistance and kill as many as they can?

    Can you see what I’m asking? Where is the balance? Do I just protect myself and let my fellow Americans be slaughtered? Because that’s the overall “vibe” I’m getting from this post. Yes, I understand what you are trying to caution and still applaud you for your insights and sharing this with us to help us all be safer in an ever-growing violent world.

    But I also know I have to live with myself and what I have done. Or perhaps not done and those who may die because of inaction.

    “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” — Edmund Burke

  4. Greyson says:


    Thanks for pointing this out.

    After seeing the first couple pictures, my thought was, “there’s no safe shot.” With a crowd like that, the best approach I could think of was to get low and go for head shots. Hopefully, that way, any misses/over-penetration would go over the crowd rather than into it.

    Then I read further. No thanks. Like you said, I would take those shots needed to get to safety, but getting out of there would be my goal.

  5. Mark says:


    Thanks for the article. I have been reading your stuff for several years and this is probably the most thought-provoking yet. The analysis of the picture with the terrorist, and what we should think about before taking the shot, was particularly thought-provoking. Thanks for dropping the knowledge bombs.

  6. jp99 says:

    Sobering analysis, Greg. Thank you.

    I noted when I read the released report of the Paris attacks what was done at the concert venue – two attackers entered the concert and started the attack. The third terrorist stationed himself outside the emergency exit door. As the attack initially unfolded, the third person began shooting anyone leaving by that door. Eventually the third person entered the building when no more people came out.

    Extremely tough situations. This level of sophistication requires an armed tactical retreat with much vigilance. Even that may not be enough.

  7. Robert says:


    Great article, as always. Thanks for injecting some (I hate to use the word) sense into this topic. Yes, a lot of people could probably make the shot from where that first photo was taken. But no longer can we assume that an active shooter is a lone shooter. At the very least, a quick look around before taking the shot would probably be prudent, and shoot and scoot (in case there are some additional, unseen bad guys/girls) would probably be a good tactic.

    Thanks again for the research and knowledge. Can’t wait for that knife class!


  8. tv says:

    If you want to shoot, take a knee and shoot the head. The angle is up and over the back stop/people at the distances in the picture.

    The “con” is you are less mobile to get of the X…plus the rest of what Greg mentioned.

    • Old 1811 says:

      Also, once you take a knee, your view of the shooter(s) can be more easily blocked by furniture, people, etc., between you and him/them.
      It may be better to use a pillar or wall corner, if available, as a barricade (you’ve practiced barricade shooting, right?).
      But if taking a knee is all you’ve got, use it.

  9. Mike D. says:


    I was just reading your email and thinking, “man, I haven’t thanked this guy for his insights and thoughts!?!?” I am not in law enforcement so much of your content is foreign and new to me. I do have a CWP, I do carry and I want to be responsible and well informed.
    Thank you for educating me on awareness, concealed carry, poor choices for concealed carry pistols, bullet loads, holster considerations and how to think through a possible threat to myself and/or my family!! What you don’t know CAN hurt you.


  10. George says:

    Great article. Thought provoking and I’ll be covering some of the points you raised in the upcoming in service firearms class I’m teaching this year. Fought terrorists in Northern Ireland for years and the new tactics are building on those perfected by the IRA. Scary days ahead I think. Thanks for the insight.

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