The son-in-law of slain militant leader Santoso, once Indonesia’s most-wanted terrorist, has joined the small band of Islamic State-linked extremists he once led in Central Sulawesi province, police said Wednesday.
Security forces killed Santoso, the leader of the Eastern Indonesia Mujahideen in the jungles of Poso, a regency in the province, in July 2016, but have failed to eradicate members of his group despite years of operations against them, analysts said.
During the past few months, anti-terror officers have either killed or arrested suspected members of the group, known locally by its Bahasa acronym MIT, but authorities said the militants were still recruiting more members.
“A follower who recently joined is Hairul, alias Irul,” provincial police spokesman Didik Supranoto told reporters Wednesday. “What is known is that Hairul is the son-in-law of Santoso.”
Hairul, known for his bomb-making skills, has become an influential figure in MIT, even though he only joined last year, Didik said.
“Some of the homemade bombs that officers have confiscated were Hairul’s handiwork. We don’t know yet whether he learned his skills from Santoso,” Didik said.
The government launched Operation Tinombala, a joint military-police task force, in January 2016 with a mission to capture MIT militants in Central Sulawesi.
Tinombala replaced a similar operation that began in the area in 2015.
Santoso had operated out of the mountains in Poso, where he also conducted para-military training for militants. The training sessions drew recruits from other parts of Indonesia, as well as from abroad, including at least six Uyghurs, Indonesian authorities said.
Security forces captured Santoso’s successor, Mohamad Basri, two months after his death in 2016. During the same year, authorities announced that they had reduced MIT’s ranks from an estimated 40 people to fewer than 10 fighters.
But in March this year, Sidney Jones, director of a Jakarta-based think-tank, the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC), cast doubt on police claims that security forces had reduced the MIT armed strength to less than a dozen.
“We don’t know exactly their real number because they are constantly moving in the jungle,” she told BenarNews at the time. “The question is: is it possible that more people have joined without police knowing it.”
First Indonesian to pledge allegiance to IS
Santoso, also known as Abu Wardah, was born on Aug. 21, 1976. He was the first Indonesian militant to publicly pledge allegiance to the Islamic State group based in the Middle East. In 2015, during his leadership, at least three non-Muslim farmers in Parigi Moutong regency were beheaded, authorities said.
Brig. Gen. Lukman Wahyu Hariyanto, Central Sulawesi’s police chief, told reporters in July that the hunt for MIT militants would continue until the end of the year.
The operation, which involves more than 600 joint military and police personnel, has focused on narrowing the group’s escape routes and blocking logistic supplies, he said.
“That way we hope their space for movement will be more limited, making it easier for troops to capture them,” said Lukman. “The point is that they are surrounded. It means that if they move just a little, they will be caught.”
Cases of terrorism decline
Meanwhile in Jakarta, national police chief Idham Azis said Wednesday that terrorism-related acts had dropped from 19 in 2018 to only eight through 2019 to date.
“The number of terrorist acts declined by 57 percent compared to last year,” Idham told a parliamentary hearing.
Police have arrested 275 people on terrorism-related charges this year, including at least 74 suspects who were arrested after last week’s suicide bombing at a police station in Medan, the capital of North Sumatra province. The attack killed the bomber and injured six other people, including four officers.
Investigators said they suspected that the bomber, 24-year-old Rabbial Muslim Nasution, and his widow belonged to Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD), a militant network affiliated with Islamic State.
The Medan attack took place a month after two suspected militants stabbed and wounded then-Security Minister Wiranto and two other people as he was visiting Banten province.
Idham said both cases were linked to JAD.
“The perpetrators were radicalized through social media and wanted to attack the government and its apparatuses because they are considered tyrants,” he said.
Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority country, has been hit by a string of terrorist attacks in the past two decades, with more recent strikes being blamed on JAD militants.