Thursday, April 28, 2016

Indonesia Hunt for Terrorist Santoso continues

Malaysians may be excused for not realising that there is a global manhunt for Indonesia’s “most wanted terrorist” — Santoso, alias Abu Wardah. Australian mainstream media have admitted that few Australians have heard of Santoso. He is described by the West Australian online portal as “the mastermind of a series of attacks on police, military and civilians in Central Sulawesi”.

He has, so far, evaded capture, despite continuous efforts by authorities for more than two years.

Santoso is the leader of the Mujahidin of Eastern Indonesia (Mujahidin Indonesia Timur, MIT), an offshoot of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), the group responsible for the 2002 Bali bombings. In May 2011, Santoso was believed to have killed two policemen in Palu, Central Sulawesi’s capital. Santoso and his men have also been linked to the beheadings and kidnappings of villagers.

Last month, the United States declared Santoso a “specially designated global terrorist” after it was revealed that he had received funding from Syria. Santoso has openly pledged allegiance to Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. In a short note issued to the media, the US State Department said: “Today’s action notifies the US public and international community that Santoso is actively engaged in terrorism.”

The effect of this is that Santoso and MIT members now face the possibility of US sanctions. The designation also enables unspecified actions by American law enforcement agencies against Santoso and his followers.

Last December, the Jakarta Post reported that security forces had stepped up the manhunt in the thick jungles of Poso in Central Sulawesi, where Santoso is thought to be hiding.

The joint operation (involving the police, its elite counter-terrorism unit and the Indonesian military) has been beefed up as the task force believes it is closing in on the remaining members of MIT.

Three suspected militants were arrested near Parigi Moutong, a province of Central Sulawesi. Santoso’s group recently uploaded a video clip on YouTube, showing him reading an oath of loyalty to al-Baghdadi.

In the footage, Santoso sported a white gamis (an Arab-style shirt) and black turban. He was standing in the middle of a group of men. One of them held the IS flag and many were armed with M-16 rifles.

Indonesian police believe that the oath-taking took place at Gunung Biru, Poso Pesisir, on June 3, 2014.

“We are optimistic we can apprehend Santoso and his group. It’s only a matter of time,” said Central Sulawesi police chief Brigadier-General Rudy Sufahriadi.

On April 16, Indonesia’s National Counter-terrorism Agency (NPT) head Tito Karnavian said Santoso’s group was having logistics problems and growing weaker.

He said two men from the group who emerged from their hideouts to buy food in Palu were arrested. Tito said the group’s numbers had been reduced from 41 to 27, including two women.

According to Indonesian media reports, over the past decade more than 50 Indonesian foreign fighters have died in Syria and more than 80 have returned to Indonesia.

Sulawesi’s porous borders have made the port city of Makassar a place of transit for those seeking to join IS as well as Santoso’s group.

Local government officials are now demanding that Jakarta commit more resources to security operations in Sulawesi

Earlier this month, Indonesia’s National Police chief General Badrodin Haiti said police would continue to hunt for Santoso and his group until all of them were captured.

We fervently hope the Indonesian authorities can capture their most wanted terrorist soon. We do not wish to see Santoso and his men making their way across the Makassar Strait, northwards through the Celebes Sea to seek shelter or sanctuary on the eastern shores of Sabah or the islands off Sabah. We certainly do not wish him to form an alliance with the Abu Sayyaf terrorists of Jolo and Basilan islands.

Salleh Buang served at the Attorney-General’s Chambers before he left for practice in the corporate sector and, then, academia


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