Eliminate Santoso, says new anti-terror chief

Santoso, Indonesia's most wanted terrorist,  must be eliminated - and not just because he is an influential and dangerous militant leader, the country's counter-terrorism chief Tito Karnavian has said.

Taking out the leader of the East Indonesia Mujahideen will also prevent the terror group from helping to create a safe haven for militants in Poso, Central Sulawesi, said the head of BNPT.

"His group is considered by other militants as an icon of struggle against authority," the three-star general told a parliamentary commission yesterday.

In his update to the House, he said that drones with thermal detectors have been deployed to the mountains and jungles of Poso. This is to support the 3,000 military and police personnel, including special forces troops, involved in Operation Tinombala, the kill-or-capture mission against Santoso and his men.

Santoso's terror cell, now believed to comprise about 30 men, has shot and killed several police officers in the past years.

It was the first time that General Tito has appeared before the House commission since he was appointed BNPT chief last month.

He also proposed building a prison island complex in a remote area to make it harder for followers of jailed terrorists to visit. This could prevent a repeat of the Jan 14 attacks by local militants in Jakarta, which was believed to have been ordered by convicted terrorists in Nusakambangan prison. These include jailed ideologue Aman Abdurrahman and his cellmate, Iwan Darmawan Muntho, alias Rois.

Gen Tito said that it is not hard for visitors  to get to Nusakambangan prison, which is located on an island in Central Java. "But I would prefer another island that is not so easily accessible. It could be in eastern Indonesia, in Natunas," he added. "A smaller island make it much harder for followers to visit these high-risk inmates."

When asked if he has any specific island in mind, the general said a proper study has not been done. "I am just throwing up an idea today," he told reporters.

Gen Tito, who is known for dismantling the Jemaah Islamiah terrorist network, will be expected to roll out an effective deradicalisation programme for extremists as well. The BNPT, which has 190 officers, will be beefed up with an additional 148 men, he said yesterday.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 14, 2016, with the headline 'Eliminate Santoso, says new anti-terror chief'. Print Edition | Subscribe