Man killed in gunfight may be Indonesia's most wanted terrorist

Police are using DNA tests to establish if the body is that of ISIS-linked Santoso, leader of the East Indonesia Mujahidin.
Police are using DNA tests to establish if the body is that of ISIS-linked Santoso, leader of the East Indonesia Mujahidin.

Indonesia's most wanted terrorist, Santoso, may have been killed during a gunfight with security forces last Thursday in a remote mountainous area in Poso, Central Sulawesi.

The Indonesian National Police are extricating the body of a militant, said to closely resemble Santoso, from the Taunca Padalembara mountains in the southern coast of Poso to be sent to Jakarta for tests.

Police spokesman Anton Charliyan said the journey would take at least four days due to the rough terrain and it would be almost a week before DNA testing can conclusively establish the man's identity.

Inspector-General Anton would not rule out the possibility that it was Santoso, the leader of the East Indonesia Mujahidin (MIT).

"Based on our preliminary physical analysis from fellow policemen who know him, it is not him, but we cannot be positive before we begin the primary identification process (with DNA testing)."

Although the police have yet to confirm the man's identity, a Jakarta Post report yesterday quoted Pian Djumpai, a former combatant from Poso who had once fought alongside Santoso, as saying the man killed in the skirmish with police and the Indonesian military (TNI) appeared to look like the militant leader. A journalist from the newspaper had apparently obtained a photograph of the corpse and showed it to Pian.

Earlier, Central Sulawesi deputy police chief Leo Bona Lubis would only confirm that a terror suspect had been killed but declined to say if he was in fact Santoso.

But Central Sulawesi Governor Longki Djanggola said he had received reliable information that the dead man was indeed the founder of the MIT.

If confirmed, the death of Santoso, whose real name is Abu Wardah, would represent a major scalp for Indonesia's counter-terrorism forces, which had been on an extended manhunt for what would be regarded as a high-value target.

Santoso and his men from the MIT have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and were behind numerous attacks on police in recent years.

The latest development comes after the arrest of 12 suspects linked to Indonesian ISIS loyalist Bahrun Naim, whom police believed orchestrated last Thursday's terror attacks in downtown Jakarta that left eight, including four militants, dead.

It also follows an extension last week of an operation involving thousands of police and TNI personnel deployed in Poso to take out Santoso and his men.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 18, 2016, with the headline 'Man killed in gunfight may be Indonesia's most wanted terrorist'. Print Edition | Subscribe