Top cop is Indonesia's new anti-terror chief

President Joko signing the documents during the swearing-in ceremony of General Tito as the new chief of the national counter-terrorism agency yesterday at the presidential palace in Jakarta.
President Joko signing the documents during the swearing-in ceremony of General Tito as the new chief of the national counter-terrorism agency yesterday at the presidential palace in Jakarta.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Many say General Tito is best man for the job, with his extensive knowledge and experience

Top cop Tito Karnavian was sworn in by Indonesian President Joko Widodo as the country's new counter-terrorism chief yesterday.

The two-star general takes over the Badan Nasional Penanggulangan Terorisme (BNPT), or national counter-terrorism agency, from veteran police officer Saud Nasution.

Inspector-General Tito's appointment to the three-star general post comes after Indonesian police were widely praised for their handling of the Jan 14 terror attack in Jakarta.

In contrast, the BNPT, which Mr Saud led from October 2014, had struggled to counter the spread of extremism in a country with the world's largest Muslim population.

Some had even criticised the agency and Mr Saud for failing to prevent the January attack by four Indonesian militants loyal to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Gen Tito, 51, will have his work cut out for him, with Indonesia facing the fast-growing threat from thousands of its own citizens who have pledged allegiance to ISIS.

Researchers have also estimated that there may be as many as 24 militant cells in the country said to have ties to the terror group, while hundreds of Indonesians are suspected to have travelled to the Middle East to heed the call of the caliphate.

National police chief Badrodin Haiti, however, believes that as a former commander of the police's elite counter-terrorism unit Detachment 88 (Densus 88), Gen Tito is the best man to helm the BNPT.

"Tito is very experienced in dealing with terrorism cases and he was also head of Densus 88, so he is familiar with the entire terror network that exists in Indonesia and internationally," he added.

Regional security experts who have worked with the general, such as Ms Susan Sim, also expressed confidence that he is up to the task.

"General Tito not only has very detailed knowledge of the terrorist landscape in Indonesia and first- hand operational experience fighting the militants, he also understands how important it is for the government to work together with the community to counter extremism," said Ms Sim, who is vice-president at The Soufan Group, a security consultancy.

Gen Tito, who was Jakarta police chief during the January siege, had cut a steady figure as Indonesia dealt with its first major terror attack by domestic militants since 2009.

That year, Jemaah Islamiah (JI) militants bombed the JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels in the capital, leaving seven dead and 50 injured, including foreigners.

In January, eight people, including the four ISIS-linked militants, were killed, but the attack was swiftly resolved by the police within minutes of the first explosion set off by a suicide bomber.

Almost 40 suspects were rounded up by Densus 88 within days of the attack.

Gen Tito had previously led the unit on similar raids that took out the region's most wanted terrorists after the 2002 Bali bombings.

They included Azahari Husin and Noordin Mohammad Top, JI operatives from Malaysia who were behind the deadly attack that killed 202 people, including many foreigners.

The BNPT, however, has a very different mandate, Gen Tito acknowledged after his swearing-in at the presidential palace yesterday. He said he intends to retain the "core business" of the agency, which focuses on terrorism prevention and the rehabilitation of terrorists who have been apprehended.

"We will need more coordination because it takes the effort of all, not just one institution like BNPT, or just the government, but also the participation of civil society," he added. "That is our mission."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 17, 2016, with the headline 'Top cop is Indonesia's new anti-terror chief'. Print Edition | Subscribe