Jakarta blocks return of over 600 ISIS fighters and family members

Indonesia's coordinating political, legal and security minister Mahfud MD said that there were 689 Indonesians stranded in Syria, but the identity of only 288 has so far been established.
Indonesia's coordinating political, legal and security minister Mahfud MD said that there were 689 Indonesians stranded in Syria, but the identity of only 288 has so far been established.PHOTO: REUTERS

Indonesia has decided not to allow more than 600 of its citizens, comprising those believed to be Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) fighters as well as their family members, to return home.

All are stranded in a refugee camp in Syria since United States-led coalition forces defeated the militant group last March.

"There is no plan to take back terrorists. We will not take back foreign terrorist fighters to Indonesia... For children aged below 10, we may consider case by case. We will see whether the minors are orphans," Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Mahfud MD told reporters on Tuesday after meeting President Joko Widodo.

"The government is going to gather more valid data on how many there are, their identities and those who were involved in terrorism," added Mr Mahfud.

Citing data from the US Central Intelligence Agency, he said there were 689 Indonesians stranded in Syria, but so far the identities of only 288 have been established.

The Indonesians who travelled to Syria to join ISIS reportedly burned their Indonesian passports and all forms of identification.

The issue of the stranded Indonesians was the subject of the meeting on Tuesday at the presidential palace in Bogor, West Java. Other ministries and agency heads were also involved in the meeting.

Inspector-General Suhardi Alius, head of Indonesia's counter-terrorism agency BNPT, disclosed last July that the government had set up a task force under Mr Mahfud to evaluate and come up with proposed options for Mr Joko to deal with the issue.

Tuesday's announcement comes against a backdrop of heated debate among Indonesians over whether to allow their countrymen and their families to return home.

 

Dr Sri Yunanto, an expert adviser to Mr Mahfud, had earlier said the security concerns of neighbouring countries would be among the factors Indonesia would consider before deciding on the matter.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 13, 2020, with the headline 'Jakarta blocks return of over 600 ISIS fighters and family members'. Print Edition | Subscribe