Indonesian security forces killed a longtime senior member of an Islamic State-affiliated militant group in Central Sulawesi province over the weekend, police said Monday.
Rajif Gandi Sabban (alias Rajes) was fatally wounded during a shootout between security forces and members of the Eastern Indonesia Mujahideen (MIT) in the jungles of Poso regency on Saturday, Inspector General Syafril Nursal, the provincial police chief, said in announcing the news.
“Rajif died from wounds to his left thigh after the gunfight,” Syafril told reporters.
“We suspect that some MIT members were also shot and injured, but they escaped by climbing down the cliff,” he said.
Syafril said Rajif, who was originally from Ambon Island in Maluku province, was one of the core members of the original MIT group along with top leader Santoso and field commander Sabar Subagyo, who were gunned down by government security forces in 2016 and 2015, respectively, Syafril said.
Rajif was skilled in using firearms and assembling bombs, and also acted as an executioner in the group, the police chief said.
He was responsible for the recent killings of two farmers, whom MIT had accused of acting as police informants, as well as other executions in the past few years, Syafril said.
In a video seen by BenarNews recently, the man believed to be Rajif was shown beheading a farmer who had been captured by the group earlier this month.
The video that circulated online also showed a man believed to be Ali Kalora, the current MIT leader, urging militants and supporters to attack security forces. He also warned that civilians who had helped the security forces would be killed.
After Rajif's death only 13 MIT fugitives were left, Central Sulawesi police spokesman Didik Supranoto said.
On April 15, police in Poso shot and killed two suspected MIT members who had wounded a police officer outside a bank.
Footage from a surveillance camera showed one of the men pointing a gun at the officer as he parked his motorcycle in front of the bank. The officer put up a fight, but one of the attackers shot him in the chest, while the other tried to seize his weapon.
Police chased the attackers, who escaped on a motorbike, and killed them in a gunfight that ensued, Didik said at the time.
String of arrests this year
Since January, police have arrested at least 17 mostly young people who were suspected of wanting to join MIT militants in their jungle hideout in Poso, said Darno, the police chief in the regency.
Police confiscated millions of rupiah (hundreds of dollars) in cash, explosive materials, machetes and motorcycles from the suspects, said Darno, who goes by one name.
Darno said the suspects intended to join MIT because they supported a violent campaign waged by the late Santoso to establish an Islamic state in Indonesia.
Before he was killed in July 2016, Santoso was the first Indonesian militant to publicly pledge allegiance to the Islamic State (IS) extremist group.
In January of that year, the government launched Operation Tinombala, a joint military-police task force, whose mission was to capture or kill MIT militants.
The militant leader had operated out of the mountains in Poso, where he 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.
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 militants affiliated with IS.