Efforts under way to verify chatter about death of Indonesian ISIS leader linked to Marina Bay plot

Bahrun Naim, the alleged terrorist mastermind behind the attack in Jakarta last year, and who is linked to a plot to fire a rocket at Singapore's Marina Bay from Batam in August last year. PHOTO: INDONESIAN POLICE

JAKARTA - Security agencies and analysts are trying to verify chatter that Bahrun Naim, the alleged terrorist mastermind behind the attack in Jakarta last year, has been killed in Syria.

Internet chatgroups known to be used by extremists were abuzz on Monday (Dec 4) morning with chatter that the Indonesian militant had died while fighting for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Indonesia's national police spokesman Martinus Sitompul said efforts were being made to trace the source of the information.

"We're still checking," he told reporters on Monday.

Indonesian news portal, detik.com, was one of the first to report the news. It cited Bahrun's family lawyer, Anis Prijo Anshari, who claimed he had received word about the death.

Mr Anis, however, could not confirm the information.

"I'm still checking if it is correct, I have also asked Pak Faturrahman, Naim's father, but he said he has not received any such information," the lawyer said.

Bahrun is a member of the Jemaah Ansharut Daulah, an alliance or network of Indonesian militants loyal to ISIS, and largely regarded as a high-value target, or HVT in counterterrorism circles.

Aside from the suicide attacks in downtown Jakarta on Jan 14, 2016, he is also said to have had a hand in several other terror plots in Indonesia.

A counterterrorism source told The Straits Times that Bahrun was also the handler of Gigih Rahmat Dewa, the leader of a small terror cell in Batam called Katibah Gonggong Rebus.

Gigih and members of his terrorist cell are now in jail for planning to fire a rocket at Singapore's Marina Bay from Batam in August last year.

Before he was arrested, Gigih, under the direction of Bahrun had set up a travel agency in Tanjung Pinang, on the island of Bintan, as a cover to facilitate the safe passage of people going to join ISIS.

If true, Bahru's death would be a significant blow to a plan by ISIS to establish a caliphate in South-east Asia.

But these "battlefield deaths", especially of foreign terrorist fighters who left home to join groups such as ISIS in the Middle East, or the Maute in Marawi city in the southern Philippines, are notoriously difficult to verify, according to counter-terrorism analysts such as Mr Jasminder Singh of the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research (ICPVTR).

So, Bahrun may still be alive unless local authorities are able to identify a body, either visually or by DNA-matching, they added.

That his family is not able to confirm the authenticity of the reports probably means that he may still be alive, said Mr Singh, a senior analyst at the ICPVTR in Singapore.

"For instance, when the Malaysian militants were reportedly killed, their families were the ones that usually shared the news, which were later confirmed by Special Branch," he told The Straits Times.

Jakarta-based radicalism expert Adhe Bhakti, who analyses extremist chatgroups in web messaging platforms such as Telegram, said that some users had claimed Bahrun was killed on Nov 30.

"We found the 'news' in some ISIS chatgroups but it has not been confirmed, even on their official news site," he added, referring to Amaq, the official "news agency" of ISIS.

But Amaq and other affiliated media platforms set up to spread ISIS propaganda, which are usually the first to carry statements by ISIS, or report deaths of its so-called martyrs, are also known to have been wrong.

Earlier in March, ISIS reported that Bahrumsyah, the Indonesian commander of South-east Asian militants, was killed in a suicide attack on Syrian troops in Palmyra.

But, according to the Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict, Bahrumsyah is believed to be still alive and had helped Malaysian terrorist Mahmud Ahmad raise funds and recruit fighters for the siege on Marawi in May.

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