Police Hunt for MIT Suspects in Deadly Attack on Central Sulawesi Village

Keisyah Aprilia
Palu, Indonesia
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Police Hunt for MIT Suspects in Deadly Attack on Central Sulawesi Village Abdul Rakhman Baso (right), the chief of police in Central Sulawesi province in Indonesia, talks with a resident at Lembantongoa village in Sigi regency, where suspected members of a pro-Islamic State militant group killed four local residents and torched homes, Nov. 28, 2020.
[Courtesy of Central Sulawesi police]

A manhunt was underway Saturday for suspected pro-Islamic State militants who killed four residents – including beheading one victim – and torched homes during an attack on a remote village in Indonesia’s Central Sulawesi province, police said.

The attack in Lembantongoa, a village in Sigi regency, caused hundreds of residents to flee their homes, a local leader said. All four victims were members of a Christian community but the motive of the attack was unclear.

Police suspect that militants with the Eastern Indonesia Mujahideen (MIT) group, which is based in Poso, another regency in the Central Sulawesi, carried out the violence on Friday.

The bodies of the four victims – two which were charred and one headless – were found in Lembantongoa, about 90 km (55.9 miles) from the provincial capital Palu, according to Didik Supranoto, a spokesman for Central Sulawesi police.

“MIT usually carried out random attacks. They didn’t know the victims. They carried out the act to terrorize people,” he told BenarNews on Saturday.

MIT was believed to be behind Friday’s attack because a suspect resembling the leader of the outlawed group, Ali Kalora, was seen at the site of the violence, Didik said. Police blamed the group – which has less than a dozen members nowadays, according to authorities – for previous attacks in Poso, in which civilians were beheaded.

“The officer showed the photos of those on the wanted list to a witness, and the witness recognized that one of the attackers was Ali Kalora,” Didik said.

Yoga Priyautama, the chief of police in Sigi, said eight houses, including those of the victims, were burned down.

“Houses were torched, but none was a church,” he told BenarNews.

Yoga said officers, including those assigned to Operation Tinombala, a joint police-military task force whose mission has been to hunt down MIT militants since January 2016, were chasing the attackers. They found traces of blood and shoe tracks leading to the hills, he said.

“Today, the joint team has spread out and conducted searches in a number of areas which are suspected to be the perpetrators’ escape routes,” Yoga said.

All four victims were men who were related to each other, police said.

Didik identified the victims as Yasa, Pinu, Naka, and Pedi.

Yasa’s son, Ulin, survived the attack and reported it to the authorities, Didik said.

The bodies of Naka and Pedi were charred and Yasa had been decapitated, Didik said.

Pinu’s body bore several stab wounds, he added.

The Salvation Army church in Indonesia said the victims of the attack in Sigi regency were its members. It condemned the violence as “an inhuman act.”

Its outpost in Lembantongoa was one of the houses burned down during the attack, the Salvation Army said.

“This act of violence, for whatever reasons and means, is a violation of human rights,” the church said in a statement, which urged the government and police to prevent other attacks on members of the minority Christian community.

International Christian Concern (ICC), a U.S.-based group, called the killings a “terrorist” attack.

“ICC mourns the death of the Indonesian brothers and sisters who were brutally murdered,” Gina Goh, ICC’s regional manager for Southeast Asia, said in a statement.

“Such senseless acts cannot be tolerated in the country that boasts ‘Pancasila,’ the state ideology which promotes religious harmony and tolerance,” she said.

Villagers flee

The head of Lembantongoa village, Deki Basalulu, said some 750 people fled their homes after the attack and took shelter at a safe location about 9 km (5.5 miles) away.

“We hope that there will be assistance for the displaced residents,” Deki told BenarNews.

Most of the residents of jungle-clad Lembantongoa are migrants from other areas in Indonesia who work in Central Sulawesi as farmers.

The last time that hundreds of people fled their homes during violence in Central Sulawesi was back in the late 1990s amid intercommunal fighting in neighboring Poso regency.

Between 1998 and 2001, more than 1,000 people were killed in violence there between Muslims and Christians. The fighting erupted then after a drunken Christian man stabbed a Muslim.

On Saturday, the head of the Central Sulawesi Religious Harmony Forum, Zainal Abidin, condemned the killings in Sigi and urged people across the province not to be provoked.

“We have to maintain harmony that we have fostered well in Central Sulawesi,” Zainal said in a statement.

A Central Sulawesi Christian leader, Rinaldy Damanik, meanwhile urged security forces to root out the remnants of MIT.

“We believe that there are still many military and police members who are sincere, professional, and capable of cracking down on the group, but perhaps the policies of their superiors are problematic,” Damanik said in a statement.

Police have said that MIT’s strength has been reduced to 11 people after the recent killings of militants tied to it.

In 2016, police killed MIT’s previous leader, Santoso, who was the first Indonesian militant to pledge allegiance publicly to the Islamic State extremist group.

MIT is one of two pro-IS groups operating in Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country. The other is Jemaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD), which authorities have blamed for most terror attacks in the archipelago nation since 2016.

The plots linked to JAD included devastating suicide attacks on churches and police stations in Surabaya – Indonesia’s second largest city – perpetrated by families in May 2018.


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