MIT Militant Suspects Kill 4 Farmers in Indonesia’s Sulawesi Region

Keisyah Aprilia
Palu, Indonesia
2021-05-11
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MIT Militant Suspects Kill 4 Farmers in Indonesia’s Sulawesi Region Inspector General Abdul Rakhman Baso, the police chief in Indonesia’s Central Sulawesi province, shows a poster of wanted members of the Eastern Indonesia Mujahideen militant group, in Palu, March 2, 2021.
Keisyah Aprilia/BenarNews

Updated at 5:59 p.m. ET on 2021-05-11

Suspected pro-Islamic State Indonesian militants killed four farmers in Central Sulawesi province on Tuesday, police said, in the first presumed attack by members of the Eastern Indonesia Mujahideen (MIT) group targeting civilians in more than five months.

The body of one of the victims of Tuesday’s attack in Kalemago, a village in Poso regency, was found decapitated, said Senior Commissioner Didik Supranoto, a spokesman for Central Sulawesi police force.    

“Currently the four bodies of the victims with the initials P.D., N.U., L.L., and P.P. have been taken to their home in Kalemago Village,” Didik told BenarNews in Palu, the provincial capital.

Poso has long been a hotbed of MIT activity. The group now has been reduced to nine fighters, according to Indonesian officials, although joint police and military manhunts mounted over the past several years have failed to wipe out MIT entirely.

“The area has been frequented by MIT and beheadings have only been carried out by MIT. We strongly suspect that the perpetrators were MIT,” Didik said.

During the Tuesday morning attack, a fellow farmer said he saw a group of suspects approach the victims before he fled and informed the police.

“He saw the five perpetrators carrying firearms and sharp weapons. When the police showed him photos of people on the wanted list, he recognized one of them, a fugitive named Qatar, alias Farel, alias Anas,” Didik said.

He said police and soldiers rushed to the scene and found the bodies of the four victims, whose bodies bore slash wounds. A motorcycle belonging to one of the farmers had been torched.

Members of Operation Madago Raya, the latest iteration of a joint task force whose mission is to hunt down the remnants of MIT, were pursuing the killers, Didik said.

“We believe the attackers were not far from the scene,” he said.

“The motive is not yet known. What is certain is that MIT did this as an act of terror to frighten the villagers,” Didik added.

Tuesday's killings came two months after a policeman, a soldier and a pair of MIT suspects were killed in two separate gunfights in Poso.

In the last attack on civilians that was blamed on MIT, four villagers living in a Christian community in Sigi regency were killed on Nov. 28, 2020. One of the victims of that attack was also beheaded and two of the bodies were charred, according to police. The attackers in Sigi also burned down eight houses.

That attack was the deadliest one till then carried out by MIT.

poso-body-evacuated.jpg
Locals help security officers evacuate the body of one of four farmers killed by suspected Eastern Indonesia Mujahideen militants, in Kalemago, a village in Poso regency in Indonesia’s Central Sulawesi province, May 11, 2021. [Keisyah Aprilia/BenarNews]

Frightened villagers

Residents in Kalemago village said they were afraid to work in their fields after Tuesday’s killings.

“There are no security forces to guard us in the field. This is frightening us,” said one villager who called herself Mama Kevin.

“We hope that all the perpetrators will be immediately arrested so that we can feel safe here,” she told BenarNews.

Mama Kevin said the four slain people were relatives.

“They were all Torajans and worked as farmers,” she said, referring to an ethnic group from southern Sulawesi.

Inspector General Abdul Rakhman Baso, the police chief for Central Sulawesi, said officers had been deployed to provide security to villagers.

“I urge residents not to get agitated and to remain calm. The Madago Raya Task Force will provide security,” he told BenarNews.

Rakhman had earlier acknowledged that security personnel had difficulty tracking down MIT’s nine remaining members because of their familiarity with Poso’s rugged terrain.

He said he was taken aback by the latest attack.

“We hope that the perpetrators can be caught soon,” he said.

A deputy chairman of the Hanura Party in Central Sulawesi, Frits Kandori, condemned the attack, which was carried out two days before Eid al-Fitr, the Muslim holiday that marks the end of the Ramadan fasting month.

“We are all angry. We reject and strongly condemn this inhuman brutal act,” he said in a statement.

Frits urged the authorities and President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo to tackle the scourge of terrorism in Central Sulawesi immediately.

“We are really fed up with all of this. These terrorists must be eradicated," he said.

‘Cannot be underestimated’

MIT, which has pledged allegiance to the extremist group known as Islamic State (IS), has survived for years in the mountains and jungle of Poso.

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

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 during the past five years.

Police and military members have operated a joint task force since 2016 to hunt down MIT militants.

Beginning on Jan. 1, authorities have taken a new approach to bringing an end to MIT, by renaming Operation Tinombala as Madago Raya (Kindness), as part of a strategy that focuses on humanitarian and social activities, police said.

“They still exist and cannot be underestimated. The task force must really make extra efforts to crush them,” Lukman S Tahir, a terrorism observer at the State Islamic Institute in Palu, told BenarNews, alluding to MIT.

“We see that the operation has not been successful in eradicating MIT. We hope that the military and police can work together well to solve this so that all people, especially those in Poso, can really feel safe,” he said.

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