Indonesian police were questioning 17 citizens who were detained at Jakarta’s international airport after being deported from Turkey over potential ties to Islamic State (IS), officials said Monday.
The group of Indonesians included eight women and six children, the Indonesian police’s counter-terror wing Directorate General of Immigration spokesman Agung Sampurno told BenarNews. The 17 were detained following their arrival aboard a Turkish Airlines flight on Saturday night.
“The Immigration Office has handed them over to investigators of Densus 88. As of last night, they were still being interrogated. They are allegedly involved with the Islamic State international terror group,” national police chief spokesman Inspector Gen. Boy Rafli Amar told reporters on Monday without being more specific, according to the Jakarta Globe.
Boy said his office was investigating possible links with several groups involved in conflicts in Syria, and was being aided by the Turkish government.
“This is based on a report by the Turkish authorities,” he told reporters, adding that in the next day or two, investigators should know if there is a link to IS.
The National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT) said 237 adults and 46 children from Indonesia were in Syria, while 283 others were deported from several countries including Turkey as of August 2016.
Analysts debate possible links
Harits Abu Ulya, a terrorism analyst with the Community of Ideological Islamic Analysts (CIIA), said the 17 could have planned to go to Syria to join IS.
“Faith encourages them to make a choice to migrate. Besides, that is the consequence of the faith, to move there,” Harits told BenarNews. “Some of them who are qualified would join the fight, too.”
Ridlwan Habib, a terrorism analyst at the University of Indonesia, disagreed. He said Indonesians going to Syria would join groups opposed to President Bashar Al Assad.
“They feel Aleppo is oppressed, so they go there,” he said, adding such acts are not associated with terrorism.
“They are anti-IS. These people want to fight in Syria, for what they consider a land at war, and not in Indonesia. It is very different from IS, which considers all governments in the world as its enemy,” he said.
He said the Indonesian government should form a clearing house at airports to evaluate if someone is linked to IS or other terror groups. This could be staffed by representatives from the Immigration Office, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, BNPT, and experts who understand the situation in Middle East, especially Syria, he said.
“The weakness is with the government. No one element or agency is authorized to handle people like these,” Ridlwan said. “So people who return from Syria wouldn’t directly have a bad label by society because they may not necessarily be terrorists.”
Meanwhile, Indonesian authorities are trying to determine how Indonesian bank notes were discovered at an apartment raided by Turkish police in connection with a terror attack at an Istanbul nightclub on New Year’s Day, according to a BNPT official. Thirty-nine people were killed during the Islamic State-claimed shooting at the Reina nightclub on Jan. 1.
“It is not yet clear and we are in coordination (with other investigators),” BNPT Second Deputy Inspector General of Police Arif Darmawan told BenarNews in a text message.
Malaysian ringgit and Indonesian rupiah banknotes were found in an apartment where police arrested Abdulkadir Masharipov and four other men, according to Malaysian news reports that cited photographs published in an article published by Britain’s Daily Mail newspaper on Jan. 19. Turkish security forces identified Masharipov, the suspected gunman who carried out the attack, as being from Uzbekistan and trained by IS in Afghanistan.
The discovery of the rupiah notes does not mean that Masharipov had been to Indonesia, Ridlwan said.
“I think they interact with Indonesian combatants in Syria and they exchanged money. It is common among the combatants to do that as a sign of friendship,” he said.