US Names Indonesian Militant Santoso ‘Global Terrorist’

BenarNews Staff
160322_ID_Santoso_1000.jpg A photo of fugitive militant Santoso appears in a display of Indonesia's most wanted men, in Palu, Sulawesi, May 26, 2015.
Keisyah Aprilia/BenarNews

Updated at 1:40 p.m. ET on 2016-03-24

The U.S. State Department on Tuesday added the name of Santoso – Indonesia’s most wanted militant whose group has pledged allegiance to Islamic State (IS) – to its list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists.

Santoso (alias Abu Wardah), who is believed to be hiding out in the jungles on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, heads the Eastern Indonesia Mujahideen (MIT) group, which the department also lists as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist entity.

“Today’s action notifies the U.S. public and the international community that Santoso is actively engaged in terrorism,” the State Department said in a note issued to the media on Tuesday.

Santoso and MIT members now face the possibility of U.S. sanctions, such as denying them access to the U.S. financial system, State Department officials said. The designation also enables unspecified actions by American law enforcement agencies, according to the note.

A series of joint operations has brought hundreds of Indonesian military and police personnel to remote and mountainous regions of Central Sulawesi province since January 2015, in an effort to crush the MIT and capture Santoso.

Authorities claim they have cornered the group. Since March 16, security forces have shot dead six people they say are MIT militants, including three ethnic Uyghurs from China’s Xinjiang region.

Remnants of Jemaah Islamiyah

Terrorism experts say the MIT is a descendant of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), the Southeast Asian affiliate of al-Qaeda, which was responsible for the 2002 and 2005 Bali bombings that killed hundreds of people.

MIT under Santoso has carried out multiple killings and kidnappings in Indonesia over the past few years, U.S. officials said.

The statement cited the killing of two policemen by MIT in August 2012; the bombing of an Indonesian police station a month later; the November 2012 shooting of a police chief; and the shootings of four members of the national police’s Mobile Brigade (Brimob) in December 2012.

Indonesian police said the MIT was responsible for the beheading of three farmers last September, days ahead of an international sailing event in the nearby Gulf of Tomini, Indonesia’s largest bay.

Santoso had declared allegiance to the Islamic State terror group in an audio recording released by the MIT in July 2014.

MIT is thought to number around 30 people, including three women who reportedly joined the group in 2012 after their husbands were killed in Poso, a restive area in the heart of Sulawesi with a history of sectarian conflict.

In December 1998, inter-communal violence broke out between Muslim and Christians in the town of Poso, capital of the regency of the same name, at a time when Muslim migrants from Java were changing the area’s religious make-up.

Before a peace pact was signed in December 2001, hundreds of people were killed and thousands left homeless. The conflict drew militants from other parts of Indonesia who believed they were defending fellow Muslims in Sulawesi.

Keisyah Aprilia, in Palu, Indonesia, contributed to this report.


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