Indonesian police Wednesday arrested a man they claim took control of the militant group Eastern Indonesia Mujahidin (MIT) following the death of leader Santoso, cutting the number of its members at large to a dozen.
Muhammad Basri, a 41-year-old deputy to Santoso, whose MIT swore allegiance to Islamic State (IS), was caught in Tangkura village in Central Sulawesi province’s Poso Regency along with his wife, Nurmi Orman (also known as Oma), officials said. Police said they also recovered the body of another suspected MIT member.
Basri’s arrest further weakens MIT, according to terrorism analyst Taufik Andrie.
“Their movement is already limited, their choices are few because their ammunition is lacking. So it is expected that soon they will be caught dead or alive,” Taufik, executive director of the Institute for International Peacebuilding in Jakarta, told BenarNews.
Authorities said they captured Basri and his wife, who were on the national police’s most wanted list, soon after discovering the body of a suspected MIT member Andika in a local river. The cause of his death remained unclear.
“After discovering the body we carried out an investigation at the scene. We found Basri not far from the river and his wife trapped in the river. They were immediately arrested,” provincial police spokesman Hari Suprapto told reporters.
Police did not release details about how Nurmi was trapped. A homemade bomb was found in a vest that Andika was wearing, and Basri was not armed, police said.
Another suspect MIT militant, Adji Pandu (alias Suwotono or Subron), was with the group but escaped from a joint security task force, officials said.
Members of Operation Tinombala, a task force comprising police officers and soldiers and that was set up to hunt down Santoso’s group, are now searching for Adji and the other 11 MIT members who remain at large.
Hundreds of security personnel have been on the ground in remote Poso regency since January 2015 in two operations code-named Camar Maleo and Tinombala.
Officers transported Basri and his wife to a military hospital in Palu around 4 p.m. (local time). After arriving, Basri smiled and bowed his head, but did not answer reporters’ questions.
“Let him go in to be examined first,” Police commander Guruh Arif Darmawan told the journalists.
Sought in many cases
Police claim that Basri took the lead of MIT following the death of Santoso on July 18. Until then, Santoso (alias Abu Wardah) was Indonesia’s most wanted militant.
According to police, Basri allegedly had roles in 18 criminal cases during his time with MIT.
“Basri was involved in the mutilation of three schoolgirls in Tentena on Oct. 29, 2005,” Central Sulawesi police chief Brig. Gen. Rudy Sufahriadi said recently.
Born Mohammad Basri bin Baco Sampe, the militant has several aliases including Bagong, Opa and Ayas. Basri left his first wife to join MIT, and later married Nurmi in April 2013. Her first husband was a MIT militant killed in Poso, police said.
‘No more blood in Poso’
In recent weeks, a team of humanitarian workers and human rights activists had joined efforts to persuade the few remaining MIT holdouts to surrender to the authorities peacefully.
“By involving family, friends and relatives, this can give a guarantee of safety without involving bloodshed. I think MIT members need to consider the government’s offer,” Taufik said.
Imdadun Rahmat, the head of National Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM), traveled to the provincial capital, Palu, two weeks ago to plead to authorities that they treat the remaining militants at large humanely.
“We continue to support and encourage the government initiative to restore the losses suffered by the community following the conflict in Poso, and urge good treatment of those prisoners who were captured alive,” Imdadun told reporters at the time.
Rudy, the local police chief, echoed that sentiment.
“The main point is, no more blood in Poso. We are taking these steps together, prioritizing a persuasive approach,” Rudy said at the time as he called again on the remaining militants to give up.