Suspected Uighur militants detected in Riau Islands province: Minister Luhut

 Indonesia's Chief Security Minister Luhut Pandjaitan speaks during a morning briefing with journalists at his office in Jakarta, Indonesia, on July 20.
Indonesia's Chief Security Minister Luhut Pandjaitan speaks during a morning briefing with journalists at his office in Jakarta, Indonesia, on July 20.PHOTO: REUTERS

JAKARTA - Indonesian intelligence has been alerted to Uighurs in Riau Islands, said Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Luhut Pandjaitan on Wednesday (July 20).

"Uighurs have entered that area, we are monitoring," said the minister, when asked if authorities have detected the presence of a terror cell in the Indonesian province.

He declined to elaborate further but militants from the Turkic-Muslim ethnic group in China's far western region of Xinjiang have been known to link up with Islamic extremists in Indonesia.

Previous reports had indicated that up to eight Uighurs may have made their way to Indonesia with some having successfully joined groups such as the East Indonesia Mujahideen (MIT) which was led by Santoso, Indonesia's most wanted terrorist.

A few unidentified Uighur militants have also appeared with MIT fighters in photographs circulated online, purportedly taken in a forested area somewhere in Poso, Central Sulawesi, where the MIT has been hiding out in recent years.

The latest development revealed by Mr Luhut comes just two days after Santoso was shot dead by army troops during a firefight outside a village in Poso on Monday.

It also follows a bomb threat from a little-known local Islamic militant group called Kelompok Islam Insaf that was mailed earlier this month to ferry operators in Singapore that ply the sea routes between the Republic and Batam.

In at least two letters sent by local mail to the Singapore offices of ferry operators Horizon Fast Ferry and Batam Fast on July 4, the Kelompok Islam Insaf threatened to strike popular tourist destinations such as Tanjung Pinang and the Nagoya Hill Shopping Mall in Batam, as well as key ports in Batam and Bintan in July.

Riau Islands is the closest Indonesian province to Singapore, where visitors from both countries commute to and fro mainly by ferry.

The provincial police in Riau Islands later lowered the terror alert levels in the area after it was satisfied that the bomb threat no longer posed any immediate danger to residents and visitors.

Police investigations did not uncover any evidence to support the threat issued by the Kelompok Islam Insaf, Riau Islands police chief Sam Budigusdian said last week.

However, more than 1,600 security personnel were deployed to places with crowds and a high concentration of foreigners, as well as seaports and the Hang Nadim International Airport in Batam.

News of the bomb threat in Riau Islands broke within days of a suicide bombing attack on a police station in the city of Solo in Central Java on the eve of Aidilfitri. A policeman was wounded when he successfully intercepted the suicide bomber, who died at the scene.

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.