WASHINGTON • The United States has slapped a special terrorist designation on Indonesia's most high-profile backer of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terrorist group, blocking any US assets he might have.
The designation also means he is banned from dealings with Americans, opening the way for US law enforcement action against him.
The US State Department said Santoso, a militant in Poso in central Sulawesi who has been on the run for more than three years, had been added to its list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists, or SDGT. Santoso's real name is Abu Wardah.
"As a result of this designation, all property subject to US jurisdiction in which Santoso has any interest is blocked and US persons are generally prohibited from engaging in any transactions with Santoso," the department said in a statement on Tuesday, as reported by Reuters.
It said Santoso was the leader of the Mujahidin Indonesia Timur (MIT), or East Indonesia Mujahidin, a group already on the State Department's SDGT list, that had been responsible for numerous killings and kidnappings in Indonesia over the past few years.
"Today's action notifies the US public and the international community that Santoso is actively engaged in terrorism," the department said.
It said the SDGT designation enabled "coordinated action across the US government and with our international partners to disrupt the activities of terrorists, including by denying them access to the US financial system and enabling US law enforcement actions".
Indonesia's elite commandos along with some 2,000 policemen and soldiers have been involved in the past few weeks in an intense search for Santoso and his MIT men in the jungles of Poso.
He is believed by the Indonesian government to be responsible for several attacks on the police in Central Sulawesi since 2011. MIT members are also believed to be responsible for a bomb that was discovered recently by police in Poso.
Meanwhile, at Halim Perdanakusuma Air Base in east Jakarta on Tuesday, President Joko Widodo honoured 13 soldiers killed during the mission to nab Santoso.
The soldiers died in a helicopter crash in Poso last week.
Mr Joko, along with First Lady Iriana, offered condolences to families of the victims.
The joint operation, called Operation Tinombala, has been extended until May, as Poso's mountainous and forested terrain has hampered the hunt, the Jakarta Post reported yesterday.