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Why It Matters

Valuable catch in terror war

Unlike his infamous predecessor Santoso, who was killed in a firefight with soldiers, Basri did not have the dubious honour of being "Indonesia's most wanted terrorist".

His short-lived reign as leader of the East Indonesia Mujahideen (MIT) after Santoso's death in July ended in surrender last Wednesday.

While Santoso went down fighting, Basri did not resist arrest when troops ambushed him in Poso, Central Sulawesi, possibly because his wife was with him. Still, Basri was no less brutal than his liege.

In 2003, he stormed into a church in Palu and shot a pastor dead. Two years later, he murdered and mutilated three Christian schoolgirls in Poso. His killing spree included at least three bombings in the same city, among his other acts of terrorism before he was jailed in 2007.

He managed to escape from prison and joined the MIT in 2013, which by then had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

 

Basri, who uses a number of aliases, rose quickly to become Santoso's deputy because of his experience in guerilla tactics.

His arrest last week would undoubtedly weaken the MIT, but the group remains a serious threat due to its ties with global terrorist networks such as ISIS, said Indonesia's National Counter-Terrorism Agency deputy chief Arief Dharmawan.

Word is already out that Ali Kalora, the nom de guerre of Sulawesi-born militant Ali Ahmad, has taken over the helm of the group, now down to just 12-strong. At its peak, MIT had 45 members, but most have been killed or nabbed by troops, while a handful surrendered. Some of those in custody have disclosed the names of kidnapped victims they beheaded, as well as the location of their unmarked graves.

Basri's capture clearly will not spell the end of extremism but if this high-value target, or HVT in military-speak, is willing to be turned, he will be a vital source of intelligence for security agencies in the wider war on terrorism.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 19, 2016, with the headline 'Valuable catch in terror war'. Print Edition | Subscribe