Indonesia Confirms Death of Top Militant Santoso

Tia Asmara and Keisyah Aprilia
Jakarta and Palu, Indonesia
160719-ID-santoso-1000 An ambulance carrying Santoso’s body arrives at a military hospital in Palu, Central Sulawesi , July 19, 2016.
Keisyah Aprilia/BenarNews

Indonesia confirmed Tuesday that its most wanted militant had been shot dead, with the country’s vice president saying this was key to containing militancy in violence-torn Central Sulawesi province.

Santoso, leader of the Eastern Indonesia Mujahideen (MIT), which had pledged allegiance to the extremist group Islamic State, died in a shootout with security forces in Poso regency on Monday, police said.

Citing a fingerprint match and positive identification of Santoso’s body by relatives and witnesses, police officials said they were certain they got their man. Officials also vowed to prolong a security operation aimed at capturing or killing about 20 remnants of the MIT.

Indonesian authorities had been hunting Santoso for years.

“We used [a] fingerprint to ensure Santoso’s identity. The result is identical with the fingerprint that we already had when he had been detained, so we conclude 100 percent it was him,” Indonesian National Police Chief Gen. Tito Karnavian told reporters at the State Palace in Jakarta on Tuesday.

Officials also said that Santoso (alias Abu Wardah) was identified from a mole and other distinguishing features.

“We see that the body and the face are all intact. All significant features such as the mole and other things are all similar,” Tito said.

Santoso was killed along with another man, identified as MIT member Mochtar, during a Monday evening firefight in Tambarana, a village in the mountains of Poso, with members of a security task force who were patrolling the area as part of Operation Tinombala.

Three other suspected, including two women, were at the scene of the 30-minute gun battle but escaped, officials said.

Before Tito confirmed news of Santoso’s death, Vice President Jusuf Kalla said that the government was trying to verify the militant’s killing through DNA testing.

“If it is successful [the body is really Santoso’s], it means we can solve the problem in Poso,” Indonesian news website quote him as saying.

Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo on Tuesday did not issue any official statements to announce the confirmation of Santoso, who was No. 1 on Indonesia’s list of most wanted militants.

But the president did congratulate members of a joint task force for tracking down and killing Santoso in the jungles of Poso, Central Sulawesi’s police chief, Brigadier General Rudy Sufahriadi, told reporters in Jakarta.

Operation Tinombala began in January and involved hundreds of police officers and military personnel. It followed on the heels of another operation, code-named Camar Maleo, which started a year earlier and was extended three more times.

Concerning the three suspects who fled from the scene in Poso, Rudy identified the man as Basri (alias Bagong), and the women as Jamiatun Muslimayatun, Santoso’s widow, and Murni Usman,  Basri’s wife.

“I had detained Basri when I was the police chief for Poso district and his sentence had one more year left when he escaped from the prison in Ampana,” Rudy said. Basri escaped in April 2013, according to media reports.

‘We are waiting for them’

Even after fulfilling the main goal of getting Santoso, Lubis Leo Bona, the commander of the Operation Tinombala, said it would go on with the aim of killing or capturing MIT’s remaining members.

Tito estimated that 19 MIT members were left, but said they still posed a threat. The national police chief urged those hiding out in the jungle to surrender, saying he was ready to negotiate with them before beginning any legal process against them.

Harits Abu Ulya, a security expert from the Community of Ideological Islamic Analysts (CIIA), questioned the plan to prolong Tinombala.

“People in Poso need peace; they need to live a normal life in the aspects of economy and other aspects. More importantly, the community there does not want the region to be labeled as a terrorists’ base forever,” Harith said in a written statement to BenarNews.

Meanwhile, National Intelligence Agency chief Sutiyoso said authorities were ready to fight the MIT holdouts or their supporters if they tried to retaliate for Santoso’s death.

“We are waiting for them. Our military is ready,” the Jakarta Globe quoted him as saying.

Terrorism expert Nasir Abbas warned that MIT sympathizers might try to avenge their leader’s killing.

“There must be retaliation, because Santoso is an important figure and a symbol of the Mujahedeen’s survival,” Nasir, a former leader of a cell of Southeast Asian militant group Jemaah Islamiyah and who now works for the National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT), told BenarNews.

Long-time militant

Along with the members of MIT, Santoso attracted militants from abroad, including a group of Muslim Uyghurs. Earlier this year, four of six Uyghurs who had joined Santoso’s group were killed in a shootout in Poso, while the others escaped and were placed on the national police’s Most Wanted list.

In 2015, police arrested, prosecuted and convicted four Uyghur men who tried to join MIT. They were sentenced to four to six years in prison.

Several were killed fighting alongside the Eastern Indonesia Mujahideen, and in July 2015, four Uyghurs were jailed after being caught trying to join the group on Sulawesi island.

Santoso became involved in Islamic extremism during fighting between Muslims and Christians around Poso, which left hundreds dead from the late 1990s to the early 2000s, according to Agence France-Presse.

He then formed MIT, landing at the top of the nation’s most wanted list after his men began killing civilians and police officers and launching attacks on local police stations.

In 2014, Santoso pledged his allegiance to the Islamic State and earlier this year the U.S. State Department added his name to its list of Specially Designated Global Terrorists.

Zahara Tiba and Ismira Lutfia Tisnadibrata in Jakarta contributed to this report.


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