Indonesian deportees eye Batam, Bintan as 'transit points for ISIS aspirants'

Megamall Batam Centre, located opposite the International Ferry Port.
Megamall Batam Centre, located opposite the International Ferry Port. PHOTO: ST FILE

The four followers of radical ideologue Aman Abdurrahman deported from Singapore recently had planned to use Batam and Bintan islands as transit points for others heading to the Middle East to join the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terror group.

This was due to the porous borders of the Riau Islands, which provide smugglers, as well as terrorists, multiple ingress and egress points, provincial police chief Sam Budigusdian said yesterday.

General Sam was citing the latest investigations into the four Indonesians who were stopped at the Woodlands Checkpoint in Singapore on Feb 21 and subsequently handed over to the Indonesian police in Batam.

Singapore's Ministry of Home Affairs had said earlier that the suspects were deported after it was established that they were en route to Syria to fight for ISIS. It is believed that they had also spent some time in Batam before they set out for the Middle East.

The four suspects - Untung Sugema Mardjuk, 49; Risno, 28; Mukhlis Koifur Rofiq, 23; and his brother Muhammad Mufid Murtadho, who is only 15 - are still being held for interrogation in Jakarta by Detachment 88, the police's counter-terrorism unit. The four are said to be from a pesantren, or Islamic boarding school, where Aman used to preach.

The 44-year-old cleric, now serving time in a maximum-security prison for setting up a paramilitary training camp in Aceh in 2009, is believed to have ordered the Jan 14 terror attack in Jakarta that led to the death of four bystanders.

General Sam added that while the police have yet to detect any terror cells in the Riau Islands, there has been an increase in cross-agency patrols to monitor radical Islamic groups in the area that may potentially pose a risk.

The religious authority in Batam is doing the same, said Mr Usman Ahmad, chairman of the Indonesian Islamic Ulema Council in Batam. Mr Usman said he has not observed any terror-related activities among the "deviant" Islamic groups under the council's watch, but more is being done to engage them to ensure they do not become radicalised. "We routinely monitor groups in Batam today, but we do not know exactly where all of them are. But I think they are still in a latent stage," he said.

Batam Island has started to feature in the plans of ISIS aspirants from Indonesia in recent months. Last August, a Batam-based civil servant abandoned his post to join the terror group in Iraq.

Correction note: In an earlier version of the story, we referred to Riau Islands police chief as Sambudi Gusdian. His name should be Sam Budigusdian. We are sorry for the error.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 27, 2016, with the headline 'Deportees eyed Batam, Bintan as 'transit points for ISIS aspirants''. Subscribe