17 Indonesians back from Syria held

JAKARTA/BEIRUT • Indonesian authorities have detained 17 nationals returning from Syria, including children, who are suspected of being involved in radical activity, officials said yesterday.

Immigration office spokesman Agung Sampurno said the people, including a two-year-old girl and a three-year-old boy, were arrested at Jakarta's Soekarno-Hatta Airport upon disembarking a Turkish Airlines flight from Istanbul on Saturday. They have been handed to the police anti-terrorism unit for questioning, Mr Sampurno said.

"They are currently still under an interrogation process. If we find any relation to crime or terrorism, we will continue the investigation. If not, they will be handed over to their families," said Brigadier-General Eddy Hartono, the chief of Densus 88, the anti-terrorism unit.

Police have been monitoring dozens of returning citizens over concerns they could link up with networks to equip a new generation of radicals with the skills and equipment to launch a major attack at home.

The Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) group is fighting hard to reinforce its presence in Syria as it loses ground in Iraq, deploying fighters to seize full control of a government-held city in the east while at the same time battling enemies on three other fronts.

The Islamists have opened their most ferocious assault yet to capture the last Syrian government-controlled area in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor, a pocket of Deir Ezzor city that is surrounded by ISIS territory. ISIS appears focused on strengthening its hold over a triangle of Syrian territory connecting Raqqa city, its main base of operations, with Palmyra to the south-west and Deir Ezzor to the south-east.

The group seized Palmyra from government forces for a second time last month, a reversal for the government just eight months after its troops had retaken control of the city and its world heritage site with the help of the Russian air force.

ISIS fighters are also putting up stiff resistance against separate campaigns being waged against them in northern Syria, one by US-backed militias including Kurdish groups and another by Turkish-backed Syrian rebel groups.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 23, 2017, with the headline '17 Indonesians back from Syria held'. Subscribe