Indonesian Aide of IS Leader al-Baghdadi Killed in Syria: Officials

Kusumasari Ayuningtyas
Klaten, Indonesia
2019-01-29
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IS-1000.jpg Smoke billows from an area where Arab and Kurdish fighters from the Syrian Democratic Forces, backed by US-led coalition air strikes, are battling Islamic State militants, in the Syrian village of Baghouz, Jan. 27, 2019.
AFP

An Indonesian militant said to be a close aide of Islamic State leader Abu Bakar al-Baghdadi is believed to have been killed in Syria, the nation’s counter-terrorism agency and his family said Tuesday.

Muhammad Saifuddin, known by his aliases Mohammed Yusop Karim Fais and Abu Walid, was among three Southeast Asian militants who were labelled last year by the U.S. Treasury Department as “global terrorists” for allegedly recruiting foreign fighters to pledge their allegiance to al-Baghdadi.

Brig. Gen. Hamli, director of prevention at the National Counter-Terrorism Agency (BNPT), confirmed Saifuddin’s death and said photographs of a corpse circulating on the messaging platform WhatsApp was of the militant.

“We believe he is dead because we saw the photos of his body. We also received confirmation from our friends there,” Hamli told BenarNews.

The news of Saifuddin’s death was initially spread on a WhatsApp group whose members are Islamic State (IS) militants.

The photos, seen by BenarNews, showed the body of a thin man wearing a black robe and a brown headband, his mouth slightly open and showing teeth.

“When we received the news, BNPT contacted former terrorists who recognized Abu Walid and also sought confirmation from third parties and the family to verify the information,” Hamli said.

Hamli said he did not know the cause of Saifuddin’s death.

Brig. Gen. Dedi Prasetyo, the National Police spokesman, also said he had no information on the circumstances behind Saifuddin’s death.

“The information is there, but we are still waiting for official news from Detachment 88,” he said, referring to the police’s elite anti-terrorism unit.

Muinudinillah Basri said he believed his brother, Saifuddin, had died.

“It seems true that he died. I received the news from Whatsapp and there was a picture of his body,” Muinudinillah told BenarNews.

He said he did not know the fate of his brother’s wife and children, who were believed with him in Syria.

Muinudinillah said he had not talked to Saifuddin since his brother was released from prison in the Philippines a few years ago.

“The last time he contacted the family was three years ago. At that time he talked to my mother,” he said.

In 2005, Saifuddin was arrested by Philippine police and charged with possession of illegal firearms and explosives. He was sentenced to nine years in prison.

Faiz returned to Indonesia in 2013 upon his release and later married the widow of Urwah, one of the suicide bombers who attacked the J.W. Marriott and Ritz Carlton hotels in Jakarta in 2009, the counter-terrorism agency said.

He then left for Syria with his wife in 2013 or 2014, the agency said.

The U.S. Treasury Department alleged that Saifuddin had appeared in an IS propaganda video in 2016 showing him, along with a Malaysian and a Filipino, beheading three captives. Those two other Southeast Asians have also been tagged as “global terrorists.”

Easy to recognize

Sidney Jones, a Jakarta-based expert on counterterrorism and director of the Institute for Policy and Analysis of Conflict, said she also believed in the authenticity of the photographs circulating on the messaging service.

“I think it’s true, especially if you see the picture, his broken tooth has become his salient feature,” Jones told BenarNews.

“This time, I'm sure it’s true, even though it can’t be proven 100 percent,” she said.

Jones said Saifuddin might have died in fighting on Jan. 23 when IS fighters’ attempts to infiltrate the Iraqi border were foiled by Hashd Al-Sha'abi forces.

In that battle, at least 43 IS militants were killed, according to Almasdarnews.com, a news portal that covers the Arab world.

Sofyan Tsauri, a former terrorism convict, said he got word of Saifuddin’s death from IS members who were members of online messaging groups.

“I received the news Friday midnight. The next morning, I shared the information in the ISIS group but it went viral only on Sunday because many initially did not know Abu Walid because they are mostly new recruits,” Sofyan said, referring to the other acronym for IS.

Reports said IS had lost about 90 percent of lands it once controlled in Iraq and Syria, where al-Baghdadi declared a caliphate in 2014.

Al-Baghdadi’s whereabouts remain unknown. The secretive militant leader has frequently been reported wounded or killed during the past few years. He was last seen in public in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul in 2014. U.S. officials say they believed he is still alive.

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