Indonesian police arrest 7 suspected militants in Papua

In a photo taken on Sept 30, 2019, security officers patrol in Ilaga, Puncak regency in Papua, Indonesia. PHOTO: REUTERS/ANTARA FOTO

JAKARTA (AP) - Indonesian police said Saturday (Dec 14) that they have arrested seven suspected Islamic militants in the country's easternmost Papua province as authorities beef up security ahead of Christmas and New Year's celebrations.

Papua police's deputy chief, Yakobus Marjuki, said the elite counterterrorism squad arrested a man, identified only as Karwanto, in a raid at a house in Sentani town in Dec 5 after receiving a tip from intelligence that some members of the extremist group have fled to Papua from other Indonesian islands since last year.

His arrest led police to six other suspects who were captured in the past week in Jayapura, the capital of Papua province. Police seized knives, laptops, explosive materials and a bomb from three houses rented by the suspects.

Marjuki declined to say what the suspects had planned in predominantly Christian Papua province. He said those arrested are suspected members of a local affiliate of the Islamic State group known as Jama'ah Anshorut Daulah, or JAD, from Lampung and Medan on Sumatra island.

JAD has been implicated in numerous attacks in Indonesia over the past two years and was designated a terror organization by the US in 2017.

The arrests come as authorities announced Friday the launch of an annual security operation to secure the year-end festivities.

For the operation, which will run through Jan 1, Indonesia's police and military will deploy a total of 190,000 officers across the country.

They will be tasked with securing churches, shopping malls, tourist destinations, airports and other places where crowds are expected to gather in large numbers.

Arrests of suspected Islamic militants are rare in Papua, a former Dutch colony in the western part of New Guinea that is ethnically and culturally distinct from much of Indonesia. It was incorporated into Indonesia in 1969 after a UN-sponsored ballot that was seen as a sham by many.

Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, has carried out a sustained crackdown on Islamic militants since bombings on the tourist island of Bali in 2002 killed 202 people, mostly foreigners.

The Jemaah Islamiyah military network, which was blamed for the Bali attacks, was neutralised following the arrests of hundreds of its militants and leaders. But new threats have emerged in recent times from Islamic State group-inspired radicals who have targeted security forces and local "infidels" instead of Westerners.

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