Police in Indonesia’s Poso regency say they have stepped up security following a series of deadly terrorist-linked incidents elsewhere in the country, including a prison riot in Java, suicide bombings in East Java and a police headquarters attack in Sumatra.
The regency in Central Sulawesi province has had a long history of militancy. Poso is home to the Eastern Indonesia Mujahideen (MIT), a militant group tied to the so-called Islamic State (IS), which claimed the recent attacks in other parts of the sprawling country.
“After the terror acts, we immediately positioned ourselves under the top alert,” Poso regency Police Chief Bogiek Sugiyarto told BenarNews last week, a few days after a suicide bombing at a police headquarters in Surabaya.
The heightened security in Poso matches efforts throughout the country. The national police announced Tuesday that a week-long counterterrorism operation, which ended Sunday, had resulted in 60 arrests and the killings of 14 suspected militants.
“In addition to anticipated threats from outside Poso, we also anticipate threats that come from inside Poso,” Bogiek said, adding that areas vulnerable to radical groups had been monitored.
He said sympathizers of terrorist groups, or even suspected terrorists, could be in Poso and could act at any time.
Last week, 30 fully armed police personnel stopped and checked each car passing a check point along the Trans Sulawesi road leading into the district.
A Poso residents said armed officers were spotted in many locations and patrolling residential areas.
“It’s been a very tight security in Poso for a few days now. Even the local people have to show their identity cards if they are questioned,” resident Ardin Adnan told BenarNews.
This type of security is not new for the community that saw about 1,000 people killed in a series of communal riots in 1998 and 2000.
More recently, Poso has grown accustomed to security officers as about 600 troops constitute a joint task force operating as Tinombala with a mission of hunting down the remaining MIT members hiding out in the mountainous region.
In 2016, the task force replaced a similar operation that aimed to capture or kill the remaining 40 MIT members. The success of their missions brought the group’s number to less than 10 with the loss of its leadership, officials said.
Top MIT leader Santoso (alias Abu Wardah), was killed in July 2016 and his second-in-command, Basri (alias Bagong), was arrested two month later. But the group is still seen as a threat as it operates under the leadership of Ali Muhammad (alias Ali Kalora or Ali Ambon).
In the last couple of weeks, a two-minute, 14-second video of the new MIT chief calling for his followers to fight and not negotiate with the government has circulated on social media. Ali, who appeared in the video standing between two men armed with M-16s, said they relied on their weapons to keep from being captured.
Mohammad Affandi, a director of a local human rights group, said the video showed the group had not disbanded.
“The video proves that they are still in Poso,” he said, asking how a group that is supposed to be cornered has the ability to post this on social media.
Central Sulawesi Police Chief Brig. Gen. Ermi Widyatno had little to say about this.
“No need to exaggerate it,” he said. “We still will investigate it!”
Previously, Widyatno had said that seven MIT members were at large.
More recently, a Central Sulawesi military spokesman, Muhlis Lamongki, said the group had added five members, although two had been arrested. He based his comment on testimony of the two militants who were captured in April.
Meanwhile, Darmin A. Sigilipu, the regent of Poso, said the region was safe and prosperous.
“Everything is OK. People can do their daily activities, no trouble. The economy is good and we have had a number of investors come and invest,” he said.
The Poso government, he explained, had a de-radicalization program for MIT families and followers, including employment opportunities.
“We have helped many, especially the families of former combatants in Poso. They now all have got back to the community,” he said.