Updated at 11:03 a.m. ET on 2015-09-17
Police in Indonesia’s restive Central Sulawesi province say they suspect that an armed band led by Santoso, the nation’s most wanted militant, was behind the decapitations of two cocoa farmers in the past few days.
Santoso heads the Eastern Indonesia Mujahideen (MIT) group, which reportedly has aligned itself with the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group and is believed to be hiding out in jungles of Poso, a regency located in this province on Sulawesi island.
“Our suspicion is that they (Santoso’s men) did it. We have not been able prove it yet because the identification team is still collecting evidence on location,” Central Sulawesi Police spokesman Hari Suprapto told BenarNews, referring to the killings of the two farmers in Parigi Moutong Regency.
Central Sulawesi police also suspect that MIT is trying to spread terror in the region ahead of Sail Tomini 2015, an international sailing event taking place in Tomini Bay, Indonesia’s largest bay, off the coast of Parigi Moutong.
Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, foreign ambassadors and other dignitaries are expected to attend. Organizers say around 10,000 people will participate in the event’s conclusion on Saturday.
“The police are sending 600 extra personnel on location. We do not need to worry about security. The event will go ahead as planned, and the president will be there,” Central Sulawesi Gov. Longki Djanggola told BenarNews.
On Monday, police recovered the headless corpses of I Nyoman Astika, 71, a resident of Balinggi village, and Simon Taliko, 55, a resident of West Tolai village, from their respective plantations.
Astika’s wife found his body. He was killed around 1 p.m. Sunday (local time), according to police.
Earlier that day, five unknown men took the couple to their cocoa plantation, Ni Nengah, Astika’s wife, told reporters. The men carried backpacks, long guns and machetes.
"I was brought to the hut (in the plantation), then was asked, ‘How many children do you have?’ I said ‘four.’ ‘Any of them work as security personnel?’ I said no,” Nengah recalled.
She said she was not allowed to leave the hut when the strangers led her husband away.
"They told me that if I left the hut, their friends were going to kill me. So I waited in the hut,” she said.
“I waited a long time in the hut. Finally I screwed up the courage to leave and I saw that my husband was dead, with no head,” she said.
She ran home to her village, about 4 km (2.5 miles) away, and her family contacted the police.
Parigi Moutong police arrived on Monday morning to remove her husband’s body. That same day, villagers in neighboring Tolai Barat reported that another cocoa farmer, Simon Taliko, had been decapitated on his farm in Buana Sari village.
A most dangerous man
Parigi Moutong is situated some 125 km (78 miles) from Poso Regency, Santoso’s suspected haven. The two regencies are separated by a large, mountainous forest.
Central Sulawesi police says they have dispatched 200 personnel to the crime scenes to hunt down the farmers’ killers, who are still believed to be in the area.
Santoso and other MIT network members are wanted by the national police as suspects in various bombings carried out in Poso, elsewhere in Central Sulawesi as well as East Java province.
Indonesian police have called Santoso “the most dangerous man in Indonesia.”
His group is also known to have pledged its allegiance to IS, which is banned in Indonesia.
In a video posted on YouTube in July 2013, Santoso called on his followers to keep fighting Densus 88, the country’s counterterrorism squad. He called them “the real demons” for having killed and jailed dozens of jihadists.
Indonesian officials say that the country faces a threat from IS targeting young Indonesians as potential recruits through social media and the campuses of Islamic schools. The National
Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT) estimates that at least 500 Indonesians have travelled to Syria or Iraq to fight for or support IS.