Indonesia releases 8 deported by Singapore

Five of the eight deported men (wearing headgear and white robes) being questioned by the Indonesian authorities in the Riau Islands on Jan 10, 2017.
Five of the eight deported men (wearing headgear and white robes) being questioned by the Indonesian authorities in the Riau Islands on Jan 10, 2017.PHOTO: F. PANGESTU

Eight Indonesians deported by Singapore early this week and questioned over suspected links to ISIS have been released, the Indonesian authorities said.

The men, aged between 16 and 37, were released on Thursday, Riau Islands police spokesman Saptono Erland said yesterday, after police concluded that they were not associated with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group. The men had been interrogated by officers from Densus 88, which is Indonesia's counter-terrorism unit.

On Tuesday, the group of eight was stopped by immigration officers at Singapore's Woodlands Checkpoint, who found a photo of a "shoe bomb" in the smartphone of its leader.

Indonesian police identified him by the initials REH, and said he is a 37-year-old religious teacher.

"The group has returned to Padang, West Sumatra, after we cross-checked with the West Sumatra regional police, who confirmed that all eight men, including the teacher and his students, were from the Darul Hadith Islamic boarding school in Bukit Tinggi," the Riau police spokesman said.

He noted that Densus 88 as well as provincial intelligence officers also determined that the group had no links to ISIS.

"According to our anti-terrorism laws, police have a period of seven days to investigate them and since there are no more leads... they were sent home," he added.

The men, from Bukit Tinggi in West Sumatra, had spent seven days travelling in Thailand and Malaysia before heading to Singapore on Tuesday.

Singapore's Ministry of Home Affairs on Thursday confirmed that the men were deported to Malaysia after one of them had "images of security concern", including that of a shoe bomb and another of ISIS fighters.

Riau Islands police chief Sam Budigusdian said the group left Padang on Jan 3 and flew to Kuala Lumpur to preach in Bukit Jalil. They later travelled to Malacca and Perlis, as well as Pattani in southern Thailand, before arriving at Woodlands Checkpoint from Johor at about 1am on Tuesday.

General Sam said Malaysian investigators also concluded that the eight men did not embrace ISIS ideology and that REH had downloaded the illicit images into his smartphone from a WhatsApp chat mes- saging group, which he has since left.

This was the third such case in the past one year involving Indonesians deported from Singapore over suspected ISIS links.

Last month, a man and a woman were sent back to Batam after it was discovered that he was helping the woman travel to Syria from Changi Airport, to join the militant group.

Earlier, last February, four Indonesians from an Islamic boarding school in West Java were stopped in Singapore and deported because they had planned to travel to Syria to fight for ISIS.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 14, 2017, with the headline 'Indonesia releases 8 deported by S'pore'. Print Edition | Subscribe