Government security forces have surrounded remnants of the Eastern Indonesia Mujahideen (MIT) linked with the Islamic State (IS) militant group after locating their hideout in the jungles of Central Sulawesi province, Indonesian police said Monday.
A joint police and military team have in the past few days cornered MIT leader Ali Kalora and his six men, blocking off potential escape paths from their hideout in Poso Pesisir Selatan, a district of Poso regency, police sources said.
“One thing is certain that if they move, they will be arrested because their escape routes have been surrounded,” national police spokesman Dedi Prasetyo told reporters in Jakarta.
Poso is MIT’s longtime stronghold in the province on Sulawesi Island, where government forces have been hunting the militants down for years.
Dedi said security forces had cut off supplies to the militants’ lair.
“When the supply runs out, God willing, they will go down and be arrested. If they persist, they will die,” he said.
Security forces have killed four suspected MIT militants since March, bringing the outlawed group’s overall strength down to seven fighters, including Ali Kalora, according to the authorities.
Operation Tinombala, a joint military-police task force that has targeted MIT militants on Sulawesi since January 2016 was extended last week by another three months, Central Sulawesi police chief Brig. Gen. Lukman Wahyu Hariyanto said.
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 the country’s most-wanted militant.
“The operation has been extended to narrow the movement of the MIT,” Lukman told BenarNews.
“Hopefully, they will all be caught soon,” he said.
Lukman shared Dedi’s optimism about the operation.
“The point is that they are surrounded. It means that if they move just a little, they will be caught,” he said.
Lukman said the MIT holdouts reportedly are armed with only two firearms and several home-made bombs.
Before he was killed, Santoso (alias Abu Wardah) 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 IS. During his leadership, at least three farmers in the same district in Parigi Moutong were beheaded in 2015 – many of them non-Muslims from other parts of Indonesia.
Two locals slain by MIT
Didik Supranoto, spokesman for the provincial police department, said the holdover militants were responsible for killing a father and his son in Parigi Moutong regency last month.
The bodies of Tamar, 49, and Patmar, 27, were found with their throats slit in a field about 10 km (6.2 miles) from their village on June 25.
“The investigation found that the MIT was the perpetrator,” Didik told BenarNews.
The victims were targeted because they had provided information to police, he said, noting that the two had escaped another attempt on their lives five years ago.
“They were targeted in 2014 because they were believed to have informed (security forces) of the whereabouts of MIT members who often passed by local people’s plantations,” he said.
“They were afraid (after the first attack) so they only told their family, not the authorities,” he said.