Indonesia promotes Tito Karnavian to position of anti-terror chief

Indonesia police General Tito Karnavian taking his oath as head of the National Agency for Combating Terrorism (BNPT) at the presidential palace in Jakarta on March 16, 2016.
Indonesia police General Tito Karnavian taking his oath as head of the National Agency for Combating Terrorism (BNPT) at the presidential palace in Jakarta on March 16, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS/ANTARA FOTO

JAKARTA (AFP) - Indonesia on Wednesday (March 16) installed a prominent police general as its new anti-terror chief at a time when the Muslim-majority nation faces a rising threat from citizens flocking to join militants in Syria.

Mr Tito Karnavian's promotion to head of the National Counter Terrorism Agency came two months after a suicide bombing and gun attack in Jakarta claimed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group left four attackers and four civilians dead.

The agency has been strongly criticised for its failure to stop hundreds of Indonesians going to Syria to join ISIS, and for its inadequate programmes to rehabilitate terror convicts in prison.

One of the Jakarta attackers was an Islamic extremist who had spent years in jail, and police believe Indonesian radicals fighting in Syria may have had a role in planning the attacks along with others currently behind bars back home.

Mr Karnavian was promoted to head the agency from his role as Jakarta police chief. In the past he has also headed the police elite counter-terror unit, which has enjoyed considerable success in tackling militancy.

"I am very happy to return to my natural habitat of counter-terrorism," he told reporters as he was inaugurated at the presidential palace in Jakarta.

He said one of his priorities would be taking on radicals in Poso, a militant hotbed on the central island of Sulawesi where an extremist group has pledged allegiance to ISIS.

Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim-majority nation, has suffered several Islamic extremist bomb attacks in the past 15 years, including the 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202 people.

A crackdown had weakened the most dangerous extremist networks, but the emergence of ISIS has proved a potent new rallying cry for radicals.