Indonesian police scour Batam for more militants

An Indonesian anti-terror police squad searches for evidence during a raid at a residential area in Batam Center on Aug 5, 2016.
An Indonesian anti-terror police squad searches for evidence during a raid at a residential area in Batam Center on Aug 5, 2016.PHOTO: EPA

JAKARTA - Indonesian police are scouring the Batam holiday island for other militants of a little-known terror cell, a day after the arrest of six members including its leader who had planned to fire a rocket into Singapore's Marina Bay.

National police spokesman Boy Rafli Amar told The Straits Times on Saturday (Aug 6) that police are tracking down the remaining members of the Katibah GR, or Cell GR.

"There are only a few of them, less than 10," he said. The group was formed in 2014, and police have been monitoring the activities of its leader Gigih Rahmat Dewa, 31, since late last year, he added.

Security has also been beefed up in Batam, with "many, many" personnel guarding vital facilities, he said.

Mr Boy Rafli said Gigih and Syria-based Indonesian militant Muhammad Bahrun Naim had begun plans to fire a missile into Marina Bay around 2015.

"He has not set his exact target yet, it's still in the planning stage. We are now trying to gather physical evidence of his plan," he said.

Mr Boy Rafli said police have confiscated items from Gigih's house, but he declined to give details.

"We cannot reveal much as of now but Gigih became radicalised only in recent years," he said.

"He is the agent for people who want to go there (to Syria) and for Uighurs wanting to enter Indonesia," he added.

Indonesia's anti-terror police on Friday nabbed the six men who belonged to the cell.

Gigih worked at an electronics factory in Batam. The other five Katibah GR members were aged 19 to 46.

The 46-year old man, Trio Syafrido, was a bank officer, while the others were all factory workers.

In response to this terror threat and the prevailing security situation, police and other agencies in Singapore have been stepping up inland and border security measures, said Singapore's Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean.

Mr Boy Rafli said: "We always communicate and share information with Singapore authorities. The police attache always comes to us to share information."

The group will be flown to Jakarta for questioning. "We will continue to question them and collect evidence," he said.

A police source told The Straits Times that one of the six men was released on Saturday (Aug 6) due to lack of evidence.

Madam Desi Fitrianti, told reporters in Batam on Saturday that police had released her son, 19-year-old Muhammad Tegar Sucianto.

“Police questioned my son about his friends, but clearly he knew nothing,” she said.

Meanwhile, Indonesian police said the full name of the little-known terror group is "Katibah Gonggong Rebus", or "Boiled-Snails Cell".

"We arrested six people from a terror group. We may have never heard of this name previously, it's KGR or Katibah Gonggong Rebus, from Batam," national police spokesman Agus Rianto told reporters on Friday.

Its identity as revealed by Mr Agus raised eyebrows as 'gonggong rebus' is a speciality seafood dish in Batam.

Some local media have instead chosen to call the cell Katibah Gigih Rahmat, after its ringleader.

Mr Boy Rafli said on Saturday that police were told about the name Katibah Gonggong Rebus from the suspects.

Hearing of the name for the terror cell, Mr Ansyaad Mbai, the former chief of Indonesia's influential anti-terror agency or BNPT, said its name is an indication of how militant groups in Indonesia have become splintered and divided, and the members "could care less about being part of a big-named network" such as Jemaah Islamiah (JI).

"These groups are fluid, and no longer solid like in the past. They are ad-hoc and could be formed by a small group of people who share the same ideology and extreme mindset, he said.

"Even one or two people could form a group. Names are no longer important to them."

Terrorism expert and Aceh university lecturer Al Chaidar told The Straits Times that the group might have adopted the name of the local dish so they could "assert their identity" as militants from Batam. "But they don't care too much really," he said.

Mr Ansyaad said that the militants in Indonesia do not identify with terror groups, but rather their causes.

"They sympathise with Muslims who are oppressed overseas. And whoever has fought there in Syria, whoever is the most brutal or has money, that person is idolised and becomes the leader," he said.

For that reason, Mr Ansyaad said the Batam cell possibly looks up and follows the orders of Bahrun Naim, who is believed to be fighting alongside the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in the Syrian city of Raqqa, the de facto capital of the terrorist organisation.

He said: "The Indonesian militants now can't distinguish Jemaah Islamiah from Al-Qaeda or ISIS. To them, these groups are the same."

aarlina@sph.com.sg