Hundreds of elite Indonesian troops deployed to hunt most-wanted terror suspect Santoso

Indonesian Military (TNI) soldiers stand guard on the KRI Banjarmasin military vessel in Poso, Central Sulawesi.
Indonesian Military (TNI) soldiers stand guard on the KRI Banjarmasin military vessel in Poso, Central Sulawesi. PHOTO: THE JAKARTA POST/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

POSO, Indonesia (Jakarta Post/Asia News Network) - Hundreds of elite Indonesian Military (TNI) soldiers are set to swarm Central Sulawesi's Poso forests on Sunday (Jan 24) in an effort to capture the country's most wanted terrorist, Santoso, and members of his extremist group.

More than 1,000 soldiers from the Navy's Amphibious Reconnaissance Battalion and the Special Underwater Unit arrived in Poso on Sunday morning on the KRI Banjarmasin-592 vessel from Surabaya, East Java.

The troops gathered at the Sintuwu Maroso Battalion headquarters in Poso before being assigned to several locations to hunt the Santoso-led group, East Indonesia Mujahidin or MIT.

Around 880 soldiers from the Army's Special Forces (Kopassus) also arrived at Mutiara airport in Palu on two Hercules airplanes on Saturday.

The authorities restricted journalists from covering the arrival of the soldiers.

Santoso and his men from the MIT have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and were behind numerous attacks on police in recent years.

The latest joint police-military offensive is part of the government's Operation Tinombala 2016 aimed at arresting around 45 MIT members.

The authorities believe Santoso, also known as Abu Wardah, and his followers are hiding out in Poso's forests. They are suspected of building a military training camp and conducting guerrilla strategies in the forest.

The group is believed to have been behind several attacks against police officers and police posts in Central Sulawesi since 2011.

The troops, along with the police officers, are set to hunt for Santoso in the forests up to Poso's borders. They will all have different tasks, Operation Tinombala commander and Central Sulawesi Police chief Brigadier General Idham Azis said on Sunday.

"There are groups assigned to go after Santoso and there are also others whose task is to isolate the Santoso group's movements," he said.

Operation Tinombala area chief Senior Commander Leo Bona Lubis admitted that the police faced difficulties in arresting Santoso, who is believed to have orchestrated attacks that killed several police officers in Poso and Palu, as the latter's hideaways are hidden deep in the forest and are difficult to reach.

The East Indonesia Mujahidin terrorist group has around 45 members, including a woman from Bima, West Nusa Tenggara, and two Chinese Uighurs.

The police and TNI previously launched Operation Camar Maleo last year, which failed to catch the fugitive. A member of Santoso's group, believed to be a frontline executor, was killed during a raid last week.