A 28-year-old woman believed to be married to the leader of the Eastern Indonesia Mujahidin (MIT), a pro-Islamic State militant group, has been arrested on terrorism-related charges in Central Sulawesi province, police said.
Ummu Syifa, the wife of MIT chief Ali Kalora, was taken into custody in late July along with another suspect during a raid by elite counterterrorist police force Densus 88, which caught her allegedly trying to deliver money and food to MIT fighters in the mountainous Poso regency, officials said.
The Poso region, on Sulawesi Island, is the main hotbed for the militant group which, although reduced in size to only 14 fighters and the target of ongoing large-scale manhunts by the authorities since 2015, has been blamed for killings of some local farmers and other people in recent years.
Police said Ummu had joined the group more than three weeks before her arrest.
“True, she had only been with MIT for 23 days,” National Police spokesman Awi Setiyono told BenarNews on Wednesday in confirming details about Ummu’s arrest.
Both Ummu and the second suspect, a man who police only identified by his initials, Y.S., were being held at a police detention center in Central Sulawesi, Awi said. They were charged under the 2018 Anti-Terrorism Law for concealing information about the whereabouts of the fugitive Ali Kalora and the other MIT fighters, according to Awi.
If convicted, the two could face life in prison.
Ummu was nabbed in Poso Pesisir district while in the process of delivering 1.59 million rupiah (U.S. $108) in cash and food supplies to the MIT militants, the police spokesman said.
At the same time, Densus 88 personnel captured the second suspect, whom MIT had tasked with helping to deliver food and other supplies to the group as well as escorting new recruits to their jungle hideaway, officials said.
Ali Kalora took over the leadership of MIT after Abu Wardah (alias Santoso) was killed by Indonesian government security forces in July 2016. Ali was named as a fugitive by police after they linked him and his group to a series of attacks in Poso and neighboring areas in Central Sulawesi.
Last week in Poso, police found the body of a retired military officer who was allegedly killed in a suspected robbery along the road frequently used by the militants.
In a separate incident, gunmen waylaid and robbed a vehicle transporting medical workers. Also, earlier this month, two farmers were taken hostages, including one who was killed.
Police said the MIT was responsible for the attacks.
In 2016, police had also arrested Ali Kalora’s other wife, Tini Susanti Kaduku (alias Umi Fadil). She was sentenced to three years in prison for aiding and abetting a militant organization. She was released in November 2019.
Last week, police announced that authorities had arrested at least 15 suspected members of Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD), another pro-Islamic State group, including a regional leader of the group. MIT suspects were also arrested during the same raids in Jakarta and West Java province, police said on Aug. 14 but without giving an exact number.
The JAD regional leader, who police identified by his initials, K.I.A., and the aliases Abu Hanifah and Jack, had held three militant training sessions and also transferred funds to finance JAD and Ali Kalora’s group, authorities alleged.
Only 14 left
In Poso, MIT is still actively recruiting members, while a manhunt for them by a 200-strong joint task force of police and soldiers is scouring the local mountains to hunt them down, said Awi, the National Police spokesman.
“For now, it is reported that 14 militants are left,” Awi told BenarNews.
Awi conceded that the security forces were having difficulty tracking down the militants because the suspects were hiding out amid rugged terrain and were constantly on the move.
On Monday, 150 soldiers were deployed to join the task force, known as Operation Tinombala. These additional personnel will serve under the command of the Indonesian police until Sept. 30, officials said.
The operation first began in January 2016 and has been renewed regularly since then. Tinombala replaced another manhunt operation, Camar Maleo, which began in January 2015 and also targeted MIT militants.