Indonesian commander killed in Syria

ISIS confirms death; Arab media outlet says Bahrumsyah died in botched suicide attack

Bahrumsyah was allegedly hand-picked by al-Baghdadi to lead a Malay archipelago unit of ISIS in Raqqa.
Bahrumsyah was allegedly hand-picked by al-Baghdadi to lead a Malay archipelago unit of ISIS in Raqqa. SCREENGRAB: TRAC/YOUTUBE

The Indonesian commander of South-east Asian militants in the ranks of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) was killed on Monday in what is believed to be a botched suicide attack on Syrian troops.

Bahrumsyah died after the explosives-laden car he was driving towards a Syrian Arab Army unit in Palmyra blew up prematurely, according to Al-Masdar News.

ISIS confirmed the death of Bahrumsyah but claimed in a post on social media yesterday that the suicide attack by Abu Muhammad al Indonesi was successful in causing damage to the enemy.

Abu Muhammad al Indonesi is the nom de guerre adopted by Bahrumsyah.

He had gained notoriety two years ago after appearing in a recruitment video in which he called for militants in his native Indonesia and elsewhere in the region to join ISIS.

The Indonesian was reportedly hand-picked by ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi to lead the Katibah Nusantara - a Malay archipelago fighting unit based in Raqqa.

He was the leader of the West Indonesia Mujahidin before leaving for Syria in May 2014.

Experts said he belonged to a pro-ISIS network of Indonesian militants who include Bahrun Naim, Abu Jandal and Jemaah Ansharut Daulah terrorist network leader Aman Abdurrahman.

Bahrun and Abu Jandal had also travelled to join ISIS in Syria, while Aman is serving time in an Indonesian jail for funding a paramilitary training camp in Aceh in 2010.

The United States had put Aman and Bahrumsyah on its terrorist watch list in January - the same month rumours surfaced that the latter had been killed in combat.

His third wife Nia Kurniawati was among 17 Indonesians deported from Turkey in January after allegedly trying to enter Syria.

She has since been placed in a deradicalisation programme at a shelter in Jakarta.

Indonesia, a Muslim-majority nation, has been hit by a string of terrorist incidents after four militants mounted a deadly attack in central Jakarta on Jan 14 last year.

Some analysts, such as Mr Adhe Bhakti from the Centre for Radicalism and Deradicalisation Studies, believe Bahrumsyah might have communicated the order from ISIS central command to mount the attack in Jakarta that killed eight people, including the four militants.

He is also said to have sent funds to militants in Indonesia and the Philippines for other operations.

Mr Adhe said Bahrumsyah was a "valuable asset" for ISIS, which plans to establish a caliphate in South-east Asia.

Analysts have estimated that up to a thousand people from Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore have travelled to the Middle East to join ISIS.

An exodus of these foreign fighters - as ISIS loses territory to coalition forces - is now a major concern.

Bahrumsyah's death, if true, would be a significant blow to the ambitions of ISIS in this part of the world, Mr Adhe said.

"He was an important liaison for Indonesians wanting to connect with ISIS in Syria," he added.

"With Bahrumsyah and Abu Jandal both dead, only Bahrun Naim remains."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 15, 2017, with the headline Indonesian commander killed in Syria. Subscribe