A militant group in the Southern Philippines supplied Indonesia’s most wanted militant, Santoso, and his Eastern Indonesia Mujahideen (MIT) with weapons, police in Central Sulawesi province announced Wednesday.
Central Sulawesi is where Santoso and his militant group operate, and the information about a connection to the Philippine group Anshorut Khilafah was extracted from two suspected members of Santoso’s group who are in custody, police said.
One was captured in May 2015 and the other was captured during the ongoing “Operation Tinombala,” a joint effort by Indonesia’s national police and armed forces to capture or eliminate MIT, a group that has pledged allegiance to the extremist group Islamic State.
Last month, the U.S. State Department placed Santoso’s name on its list of Specifically Designated Global Terrorists – a move that exposes the militant commander and his MIT band to possible American sanctions and actions by American law enforcement agencies, U.S. officials said.
“We got all of this information from Santoso’s man with the initial W (alias I). Moreover when we arrested him, he was about to supply more weapons from the Philippines to MIT in Poso,” Central Sulawesi Police chief Brig. Gen. Rudy Sufahriadi told a news conference in Palu on Wednesday.
The suspect identified as “W” was arrested by the national police’s counterterrorism squad Densus 88 on May 28, 2015. He claimed he picked up of weapons valued at Rp130 million (U.S. $9,832) and consisting of an M-16 rifle and magazines, ammunition, a grenade and a grenade launcher, which were ordered by Santoso at the end of 2014.
The weapons were handed over to W in the waters near Mindanao, Southern Philippines, by members of the Anshorut Khilafah, a hardline Islamic group.
“All those purchased guns had been turned over to Santoso. But in the ambush and several shootouts in Poso Pesisir, all those weapons were found and are now secured as evidence,” Rudy said.
Rudy said W was arrested as he tried to get more weapons ordered by Santoso.
“Based on W’s confession, Santoso sent Rp 220 million ($16,643) to Abu Syarifah [the leader of Anshorut Khilafah ]. However when W arrived in Manado Port and was about to cross to Mindanao, he was captured by Densus 88,” Rudy said, referring to the Indonesian police’s elite anti-terror squad.
W was also involved in several MIT-linked crimes, including planning an attack that killed a police officer in Gowa, in South Sulawesi province, and distributing ammunition to an armed militant group in the West Nusa Tenggara town of Bima, Central Sulawesi Police spokesman Hari Suprapto said.
“The most striking feature of W is that he was trusted by Santoso,” Hari said.
Most wanted list
During the press conference, Central Sulawesi Police Chief Deputy Leo Bona Lubis, who heads Operation Tinombala, released an updated list of 29 MIT members and associates considered as the nation’s most wanted fugitives.
Besides three MIT leaders – Santoso, Basri (alias Bagong), and Ali Kalora – the list includes three women from Bima and two Uyghurs.
“We know the names and faces of these 29 people based on the information given by the MIT members captured during Operation Tinombala,” Leo said.
The ongoing operation started in January to capture or kill Santoso. While that goal has not been met, 10 MIT members have been killed, several have been arrested and weapons have been seized. One police officer was killed on Feb. 9.
Police believe the group has been cornered in the jungle and faces chronic food shortages.
Last week, a taskforce released pictures and videos from mobile phones and cameras, which were seized from MIT and show Santoso and his men eating the flesh of endangered species, including a maleo, a native bird of Sulawesi.
In one soundless video (below), Santoso can be seen eating a midget buffalo, known locally as anoa, also an endangered species.
MIT is accustomed to having supplies delivered by couriers from nearby villages, but those deliveries are limited because police have isolated the group.
Right activists contested the claim that Santoso has been cornered.
“If the conditions are like that, they [Santoso and his men] should have been captured [by now]. It is true that some had been arrested and killed, but they were only the followers, not the group’s main leaders,” said Mohamad Afandi, the director of a local human rights advocacy organization.
Afandi said the new videos were proof that MIT has not been cornered.
“In fact, they are still hunting and practicing shooting with ease. This is the sign that they are still doing their activities even though they are hunted by thousands of officers,” he said.