PALU, Central Sulawesi (JAKARTA POST/ ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Two members of the East Indonesia Mujahidin (MIT) terrorist group, led by most-wanted terrorist Santoso, were killed during a shoot-out with Indonesian security forces on Sunday in Central Sulawesi, an official said.
Hari Suprapto, spokesman of a 3,000-strong task force engaged in a months-long kill-or-capture mission against MIT, said the men were found dead at 3:43 pm following a two-hour shoot-out at Mount Uwe Mayea, South Poso Pesisir.
The dead bodies would be transported by helicopter from the mountainous area to Bhayangkara Police Hospital in Palu for identification, Hari said on Monday (May 16).
"We cannot publish their names for now, pending the identification," he said.
Santoso, whose real name is Abu Wardah, is Indonesia's most high-profile backer of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terrorist group. He has been on the run for three years.
In March the US added him to its list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists, meaning he is banned from dealings with Americans, and opening the way for US law enforcement action against him.
On Sunday, members of the task force, which comprises military, police personnel and special forces troops, were patrolling the Uwe Mayea area when they spotted a group armed with rifles walking downhill to the Saatu River.
They started to shoot at the group and the militants shot back, resulting in an exchange of fire.
The shoot-out ended when the militants stopped shooting at the troops from their location in the hills. The task force immediately secured the area, which led to the discovery of the two fatalities and four bags containing supplies, Hari said.
While some of the troops swept the area, the others followed the remaining MIT members who had fled to the south and west. The troops continued pursuing the militants until late on Sunday night, Hari said.
Separately, National Police chief General Badrodin Haiti confirmed that the militants belonged to the Santoso group, which is.
With the deaths of two more terrorist suspects, Santoso's group has further weakened, Badrodin said.
"They are now down to 23 to 22 [MEMBERS]," Badrodin said as quoted by kompas.com.
Santoso's terror cell has shot and killed several police officers in the past years.
Officials have been intensifying the hunt for the MIT in recent weeks, with an additional 700 police and military personnel deployed to apprehend the group.