Indonesian commandos join hunt for most wanted terrorist

Indonesian troops arriving in Poso, Central Sulawesi, yesterday to join the hunt for Santoso, the leader of the East Indonesia Mujahidin terrorist group. Santoso is believed to be responsible for several attacks on the police in Central Sulawesi over
Indonesian troops arriving in Poso, Central Sulawesi, yesterday to join the hunt for Santoso, the leader of the East Indonesia Mujahidin terrorist group. Santoso is believed to be responsible for several attacks on the police in Central Sulawesi over the past five years.PHOTO: THE JAKARTA POST

Special forces deployed to Central Sulawesi to boost assault on home-grown terror group led by Santoso

Special forces from Indonesia's navy and army were deployed to Central Sulawesi at the weekend as the hunt for Santoso, the country's most wanted terrorist, intensifies.

More than 1,000 Kopaska troops - Indonesia's equivalent of the US Navy Seals - arrived in Poso yesterday from Surabaya to join a group of about 880 men from Kopassus, the army's special forces unit, who landed on Saturday.

These elite commandos will work with the 2,000 policemen and soldiers already involved in what is regarded as President Joko Widodo's first large-scale counter-terrorism operation since he took office in 2014.

 

It is also the first major assault on a home-grown terror group since 2009. In that year, militants from the Jemaah Islamiah bombed the JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels in Jakarta, leaving seven dead and 50 injured, including a number of foreigners.

The current operation, codenamed Tinombala, is an extension of a previous manhunt which failed to nab Santoso, whose real name is Abu Wardah.

Santoso is the leader of the East Indonesia Mujahidin (MIT) and a loyalist of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). He is said to be responsible for several attacks on the police in Central Sulawesi since 2011.

Members of the MIT are also believed to be responsible for a bomb that was discovered by police in Poso last Monday.

Local residents told The Jakarta Post that the bomb was found in a black backpack that had been placed in front of a house.

It was apparently dropped off on the previous day at about 10.30am outside the house in the Kawua subdistrict by suspects in a silver Toyota. The target of the bomb has not been established.

Last week, Santoso was rumoured to have been killed in a remote mountainous area on the southern coast of Poso during a gunfight with security forces on Jan 14 - the day of a terror attack in downtown Jakarta.

National police had said they were extricating a body, said to closely resemble Santoso, from the Taunca Padalembara mountains to send it to Jakarta for tests.

Police spokesman Anton Charliyan said the journey through rough terrain would take at least four days and it would be almost a week before DNA testing could establish the man's identity.

While the search for Santoso continues, the Indonesia military (TNI) and the police's elite counter-terrorism unit, Detachment 88, have nabbed several members of the MIT and foreign fighters linked to the group in recent months.

These include three men believed to have been part of a gang of seven from the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, an Uighur separatist group based in the restive Xinjiang region of China.

One of Santoso's men was also killed during a skirmish with security forces last week - although it is unclear if this man is the same militant rumoured to be Santoso.

Operation Tinombala commander and Central Sulawesi police chief General Idham Azis told The Jakarta Post yesterday that the special forces had been given the mission of hunting down Santoso and isolating the MIT's movements in the jungles and mountains of Poso.

The TNI and police estimate that the MIT is about 45 strong, including a woman from West Nusa Tenggara province and two Chinese Uighurs.

Police on Friday also said they had recently uncovered evidence of a flow of funds from ISIS to the MIT.

Central Sulawesi deputy police chief Leo Bonar Lubis said that wire transfer documents had been found at the scene of a shootout between security forces and the MIT in the Tineba mountain region on Jan 15.

He said: "The funds were transferred in stages to bank accounts belonging to MIT supporters or MIT-affiliated foundations, around 2 million rupiah (S$207) per transaction."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 25, 2016, with the headline 'Indonesian commandos join hunt for most wanted terrorist'. Print Edition | Subscribe