Indonesian authorities arrested three people Wednesday in Central Sulawesi province on suspicion of involvement with the Eastern Indonesia Mujahideen (MIT), a militant group linked to Islamic State extremists, the local police chief said.
Members of the national police’s Densus 88 anti-terrorism unit arrested Mohamad Arkam and Adi Saputra in their rented home in Palu, the capital of Central Sulawesi, provincial police chief Brig. Gen. Lukman Wahyu Haryanto told BenarNews.
Arkam, 25, and Adi, 21, both construction workers, were taken in for questioning after the arrest and interrogation of another suspect, 35-year-old Zainal Abidin, in Parigi Moutong regency earlier in the day, Lukman said.
“What is clear is that they are linked to terrorism,” Lukman said. “We are still delving into the case so we can’t yet reveal the extent of their involvement.”
The police chief said the trio was suspected of links to the MIT, whose members have sworn allegiance to the Islamic State group and has been active in the Poso area of Sulawesi Island in recent years.
Police seized machetes, knives, cellphones, and an air gun from the suspects’ home, he said.
Andi Akbar, a lawyer representing Arkam and Adi, said police had violated his clients’ rights by failing to produce a search and arrest warrant when taking the two men into custody.
“They were bundled in and taken in a car without asking any questions. This is not in accordance with the procedure,” Andi told BenarNews.
Arkam’s wife, Risna, alleged that police took pictures of her while she was half-naked.
“I told them to wait until I got dressed properly, but they didn’t listen,” Risna told reporters in Palu.
Risna said her husband was only a construction worker.
“Every day my husband goes to work at 8 a.m. and comes home at 4 p.m.,” she said. “He has nothing to do with terrorism.”
Adi’s wife, Reski, provided a similar account, saying police did not allow her to dress properly before they came in.
“They took pictures and video and took my husband,” she told reporters. “My husband works together with Arkam as a construction worker. I reject accusations that he was involved in terrorist acts.”
Potential escape paths blocked
Authorities said MIT’s overall strength had been reduced to seven fighters, including its leader Ali Kalora, following recent killings of other members of the militant group.
In July, police said security forces had blocked off potential escape paths from MIT’s hideout in Poso Pesisir Selatan, a district of Poso, and cut off supplies to the militants’ lair.
Earlier in July, the government extended Operation Tinombala, a joint military-police task force that has targeted MIT militants on Sulawesi since January 2016, by three months.
Tinombala replaced another joint operation to pursue the militants on Sulawesi, Camar Maleo, which began in 2015. On July 18, 2016, the task force killed Santoso, MIT’s overall leader, who was then Indonesia’s most-wanted militant.
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.
Two months after his death, Santoso’s successor, Mohamad Basri, was captured. Also in 2016, authorities announced that they had reduced MIT’s ranks from an estimated 40 people to fewer than 10 fighters.
Santoso was the first Indonesian militant to publicly pledge allegiance to the Islamic State group in the Middle East. During his leadership, at least three non-Muslim farmers in the same district in Parigi Moutong regency were beheaded in 2015, authorities said.
Despite suffering setbacks, the MIT has continued to recruit people to its ranks, Muhammad Lukman S. Tahir, a security analyst at the University of Alkhairaat Palu, told BenarNews.
“The death of Santoso was not the end of MIT,” Tahir said, estimating that MIT currently has 12 followers in Poso.
“I suspect the three people arrested today wanted to join Ali Kalora in Poso but their movements were detected by Densus,” he said.
“The movement led by Ali Kalora continues to recruit young people to Poso,” Tahir said, adding that the internet had become a recruitment tool for the group.
Tahir also criticized the Tinombala operation, which he described as a waste of money.
“In my opinion it should just be disbanded,” he said.
“Central Sulawesi is already peaceful but the operation is making it as if it was dangerous,” he said. “Even though the threat is present, it can be handled with a different approach.”