Indonesian cop killed in jungle ambush

Police chief calls for training in guerilla tactics to combat Mujahidin fighters

Fighters loyal to Indonesia's most-wanted terrorist Santoso killed a policeman in a jungle ambush on a group of 20 officers in Central Sulawesi, prompting the country's police chief to call for guerilla tactics in tackling the militants.

On Wednesday, the police were fired on from above at a river crossing in the mountainous Auma area, suspected to be a hideout of the Mujahidin Indonesia Timur.

The ambushed officers were carrying the body of a fighter killed in a raid the day before in Poso, where they seized an M-60 anti-tank gun, bombs, handguns and ammunition belonging to the radical group. The anti-tank gun was from the southern Philippines, police chief Badrodin Haiti said yesterday.

Before Tuesday's raid, police had received a tip-off that up to 40 Mujahidin fighters, led by Santoso, were in Auma. Reinforcements numbering more than 140 were sent to Poso to help in the hunt. 

"They have moved away. They are probably between 30 and 40 men in total," General Badrodin said. "They are linked to the ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) and have garnered support domestically. They might have purchased their wea-pons with money donated by their sympathisers in Indonesia."

Gen Badrodin said the police needed training in guerilla tactics to combat the radical group.

"We need skills to operate in the jungle, which are different from those required in the cities.

"There are alternatives - if not with TNI (Indonesian military), we could do it with other countries, like the UK," he said yesterday.

He said the United Kingdom had already offered help, and Indonesia planned to explore that possibility.

Until 2007, the Santoso-led militant group had lived in the city, posing as residents. As public anti-terror campaigns kicked in, they heightened awareness among Indonesians of the dangers and of how to help prevent attacks. People were encouraged to report suspicious "residents" or newcomers to the police. This led to several arrests.

"The Santoso group then changed strategy and now prefer the jungle," Gen Badrodin said.

The policeman killed on Wednesday, First Lieutenant Bryan T. Tatonas, was a bomb squad officer at Poso police station.

Indonesian police have been outmanoeuvred before by militants operating in the jungle. In March 2010, anti-terror police raiding a group hiding in Aceh were ambushed and one officer was killed and nine others wounded.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 22, 2015, with the headline 'Indonesian cop killed in jungle ambush'. Print Edition | Subscribe