Indonesian police have arrested four men in the past two days suspected of helping people travel to join terrorist groups in Syria and the Philippines, officials said.
Three were arrested in Jambi, Sumatra on Thursday and one was arrested early Friday on the outskirts of Jakarta, according to police spokesman Martinus Sitompul.
The Jambi suspects – ranging in age from 38 to 45 years old and identified only by their initials – were arrested after police successfully prevented a planned departure to the southern Philippines through Tolitoli, Sulawesi, he said.
"As a development of that case, the officers made the arrests in Jambi," Martinus said.
Police nabbed a fourth man in front of his house in Tangerang, near Jakarta, as he was about to take his child to school early Friday morning.
While not linked to the Jambi suspects, this man was also involved in helping people travel to the Philippines and Syria “by collecting funds and provisions for those who want to go,” Martinus said.
He did not specify how many people the suspects had assisted and whether they worked for any particular group.
But Jambi police chief Priyo Widyanto said the three suspects in his area were linked to the militant organization Jamaah Anshar Khilafah (JAK), according to the state-owned Antara news agency.
In May, the elite counterterrorism force Densus 88 also arrested two suspected militants linked to JAK in Jambi, according to police.
JAK has existed since 2014, or shortly after the so-called Islamic State (IS) was declared by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, according to Adhe Bhakti, executive director of the Center for Radicalism and Deradicalization Studies, an independent think-tank in Jakarta.
According to him, JAK is similar to Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD), a group that police say masterminded the Jakarta bomb attack in January 2016 and a twin suicide bombing at Kampung Melayu, East Jakarta, in May.
The United States government declared JAD a global terrorist group in January 2017.
“The two are basically the same … their leader is the same, Aman Abdurrahman,” Adhe said, referring to an imprisoned Muslim cleric.
The wandering 17
Meanwhile, officials announced that 17 Indonesians who had emigrated to Syria to join the so-called Islamic State had crossed into Iraq after escaping the group.
"They are in good condition, we keep in contact, and they are now in Erbil," Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi said Friday in Jakarta, referring to the city in northern Iraq.
The group – believed to be women and children from a single family – told reporters in June at a refugee camp in Ain Issa, Syria that they had emigrated from Jakarta two years earlier, but their dreams of living in an Islamic caliphate had been crushed by the brutal reality of life in Raqqa.
Asked when they would return to Indonesia, Retno replied, "I cannot talk about it yet. Let me work on it."
Associated Press quoted Omar Allouche, an official at Ain Issa camp, as saying that the 17 had been handed over to Indonesian representatives at a Syria-Iraq border crossing on August 8.
In the past three years, some 430 Indonesians have been deported from Turkey after trying to cross into Syria. The figure includes 193 individuals in 2015; 60 in 2016; and 177 in the first six months of 2017, Retno told reporters in June.
A year ago, an IS propaganda video urged IS supporters who could not travel to Syria to go to the southern Philippines instead.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte imposed martial law in the southern Mindanao region after IS-linked militants backed by foreign fighters seized Marawi city in May.
An estimated 200 militants are still holed up in Marawi, and the death toll after three months of fighting with Philippine military has topped 700, most of them enemy combatants, according to official death toll figures.