Indonesia's restive Poso region is training ground for ISIS: Minister

JAKARTA (Jakarta Post/Asia News Network) - The government has called on security authorities to step up their efforts to prevent locals from joining the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), especially in the restive Poso region in Central Sulawesi.

The call came in the wake of an intelligence report this week which indicates that the area had become a training ground for the group.

Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Tedjo Edhy Purdijatno said on Tuesday that the intelligence authorities had detected the growth of ISIS in Poso, especially in the area's mountainous district, which had long been believed to be a terrorist hotbed.

Tedjo said that there were now 110 foreigners identified as ISIS members in the area, which was ravaged by communal conflict in the early 2000s.

"Many Indonesians and foreigners have entered Poso. Pak President has asked (us) to take precautionary measures while not disrupting the lives of people in the area," Tedjo said.

Tedjo also said that his office would also liaise with the immigration office to monitor people's exit-entry flow to the country and to the area.

"This is very worrisome. The Central Sulawesi Governor and a local regent have asked for assistance to handle the presence of ISIS there," Tedjo said.

In September, police in Poso arrested seven suspected militants, including four individuals thought to hail from Chinese Turkestan, whom they believed were planning to join an extremist group in eastern Indonesia with possible links to ISIS.

At that time, the police has said that the four foreigners were in the town of Parigi Moutong, Central Sulawesi, on their way to Poso.

Central Sulawesi Police chief Brig. Gen. Ari Dono Sukmanto has previously indicated that a hardline group in Poso was believed to be part of the ISIS terrorist network in Indonesia, as evident in behavior and symbols similar to that of ISIS, including their flags.

The police had also suspected that Santoso, a leader of a Poso terrorist group, has joined the ISIS.

Terrorism expert Solahuddin doubted if Tedjo was telling the truth. "I believe what he meant was 110 Indonesians who are members of Santoso's group in Poso, which is currently the most active terrorist network and that he has pledged loyalty to ISIS. Almost all terror attacks this year were connected to Santoso," he said.

Solahuddin called for calm in spite of Tedjo's claim of ISIS' threat.

"People must be alert, but don't worry too much. The tough measures taken by the police could still handle the threat," he said.

Meanwhile, the National Police are pressing ahead by questioning 12 Indonesians - who were alleged to be headed for Syria to join the ISIS movement before they were intercepted by Malaysian immigration officers - to determine whether they were really intending to partake in the civil war raging in Iraq and Syria.

National Police deputy chief Comr. Gen. Badrodin Haiti said the police were particularly suspicious of the 12 men, women and children because one of them, Muhammad Sibgotuloh, had been previously convicted of having been involved in a terrorism-related crimes in robbing the Medan branch of CIMB bank in North Sumatra, in August 2010.

"One of them was only recently released after serving jail time for terrorism acts," he said.

The 12 people are currently being questioned at the Police's Mobile Brigade (Brimob) headquarters in Kelapa Dua, Depok, West Java, after arriving on Monday night.

Although The Star newspaper of Malaysia reported that the Indonesians were arrested for entering the country without valid documents, Badrodin said that they had checked the documents held by those arrested and found them to be complete.

He said that the immigration office allowed them to leave the country as they have complete travel documents. "It's only illegal to travel to Syria if they have malicious intent. This is what we have to find out this week; whether or not they were traveling there to join ISIS or to find work," he said.