Indonesia arrests leader of ISIS-linked militant group

(Above) An Indonesian police spokesman giving details of the joint operation yesterday between the police and the military in which a member of the militant group, the Eastern Indonesia Mujahideen, was killed and its leader Basri (below) was captured
(Above) An Indonesian police spokesman giving details of the joint operation yesterday between the police and the military in which a member of the militant group, the Eastern Indonesia Mujahideen, was killed and its leader Basri was captured.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
(Above) An Indonesian police spokesman giving details of the joint operation yesterday between the police and the military in which a member of the militant group, the Eastern Indonesia Mujahideen, was killed and its leader Basri (below) was captured
An Indonesian police spokesman giving details of the joint operation yesterday between the police and the military in which a member of the militant group, the Eastern Indonesia Mujahideen, was killed and its leader Basri (above) was captured.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

East Indonesia Mujahideen linked to several terror threats; Basri's capture set to weaken it

Indonesian security forces have captured the leader of the East Indonesia Mujahideen (MIT), a militant group once headed by Indonesia's most wanted terrorist Santoso.

National Police Chief Tito Karnavian confirmed yesterday that Basri, the militant who took over the MIT after Santoso was killed in July, was nabbed earlier in the morning.

He added that Basri was the "No. 2 target" after Santoso, and the catch would significantly weaken the remnants of the terrorist group.

The latest arrest came on the same day the body of MIT fighter Andika Eka Putra was found along a river in Poso, Central Sulawesi.

It is unclear how he died but Agence France-Presse reported yesterday that "another member of the group was shot dead" without naming Andika, also known as Hilal.

The police said Basri, who uses the alias Bagong, was caught in Poso, where more than 3,500 soldiers and police officers have been deployed since January for Operation Tinombala.

Their mission - to kill or capture Santoso and his men as well as 10 Uighurs from China's far western region of Xinjiang, who are said to have to joined the MIT.

At its peak, the MIT, which has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), was about 45-strong.

It received funds from the militant group in the Middle East and was linked to several terror threats, including a nine-minute video uploaded online that called for attacks on the Jakarta police headquarters and the presidential palace.

Before Santoso was killed, there was increasing concern in Indonesia that the MIT may grow into a force comparable with militant groups in the southern Philippines or separatists in southern Thailand.

Basri was thought to have been killed alongside Santoso during a firefight with soldiers in July.

However, it was later established that the second death during the skirmish was another MIT member named Mukhtar alias Kahar.

The last of the Uighur militants who had linked up with the MIT was killed in north Poso last month, according to police records.

An Indonesian counter-terrorism official told The Straits Times that the extremist group is now believed to have been reduced to about 12 members with the arrest of Basri and the death of Andika.

Basri had been jailed in 2007 for mutilating a student in Poso in a terrorist act, but escaped and later joined Santoso's group in 2013, becoming his second-in-command.

"He was a very valuable addition to the MIT because he had combat experience," said the official, who asked not to be named for security reasons.

He added that Basri was also highly regarded by Santoso, who allowed Basri's wife to live with him in their jungle hideout. Only Santoso himself and another senior member of the group known as Daeng Koro had the same privilege.

As the MIT is being gradually decimated, other militants have emerged in Indonesia over the last two months.

They include the terror cell in Batam behind a plot to fire a rocket at Singapore's Marina Bay, and two suicide bombers who separately tried to attack a police outpost in Solo and a Catholic church in Medan.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 15, 2016, with the headline 'Indonesia arrests leader of ISIS-linked militant group'. Print Edition | Subscribe