Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Thousands of Indonesian elite soldiers sent to hunt for Santoso in the forest

Thousands of Indonesian Military (TNI) special forces officers have been deployed to Poso, Central Sulawesi, to join the manhunt for East Indonesia Mujahidin (MIT) leader Santoso.

The elite troops joined police units, such as the Mobile Brigade and counterterrorism unit Densus 88, that had earlier joined Operation Tinombala.

The soldiers arrived in Palu and Poso from Jakarta on board Indonesian Air Force planes and then continued their journey to Poso by car, while others arrived on naval ships directly from Surabaya to Poso.

On Sunday morning, more than 1,000 soldiers from the Marine Corp. and Amphibious Surveillance Battalion arrived in Poso on board naval ship KRI Banjarmain-592, which berthed at the Poso Port at around 5 a.m. local time.

They were immediately taken to the Battalion 714 headquarters in Sintuwu Maroso, Ranononcu and Kawua in Poso, and later assigned to their respective units before joining the manhunt.

The previous day, around 880 members of the Army’s Special Forces (Koppasus) arrived at the Mutiara Airport in Palu on board two Hercules planes. Around 100 of them were immediately airlifted to Kasiguncu Airport in Poso to join troops who had arrived earlier.

Air Force Special Forces (Paskhas) troops arrived on the same day.

The joint security forces involved in Operation Tinombala are tasked with the capture of 45 MIT members, led by Santoso. The radical group is currently hiding in the forest around Poso, where they have set up a training camp and moved as guerillas in the jungle.

The person responsible for the Tinombala task force, Brig. Gen. Idham Azis, said the entire combined forces would pursue Santoso in the forest until the Poso border.

“Some of the troops [will] pursue Santoso and his gang, while others will block them,” said Idham, who is also Central Sulawesi Police chief.

The 45 MIT members include three women from Bima, West Nusa Tenggara, and two Uighurs from China.

On Dec. 23, last year, the police arrested two men, identified as Arif Hidayatullah, alias Abu Mushab, and a man from Uighur, identified as Alli, for allegedly planning attacks on Christmas and New Year festivities. Police said the suspects may have had links to MIT.

Operation Tinombala territorial head Sr. Comr. Leo Bona Lubis acknowledged it was difficult to capture Santoso given the very rough terrain in the forest.

The Tinombala operation replaced the Camar Maleo I to IV operations, which started in January last year, that failed to capture the most-wanted MIT chief, Santoso, alias Abu Wardah, who is believed to also be the leader of the Islamic State (IS) movement in Indonesia.

During the previous operations, police tracked down 24 terror suspects, killing seven and arresting 17 others.

Security at entrances to Poso were tightly guarded on Sunday, as police conducted raids in Poso Pesisir and inspected incoming and outgoing cars and people.

Poso Police chief Adj. Sr. Comr. Ronny Suseno told The Jakarta Post the raids were aimed at restricting the movement of suspected MIT members.

“Many MIT sympathizers leave and enter Poso at will. The raids are aimed at anticipating the possibility of any party infiltrating Poso,” said Ronny.

Despite the intense raids, at noon on Sunday a terrorist act was attempted in Kawua subdistrict in Poso city. A backpack, believed to contain a bomb, was placed next to unidentified people on the roadside.

The bomb squad then exploded the suspicious black backpack.

Based on information gathered by the Post at the scene, at around 10:00 a.m. local time a silver Toyota Avanza van stopped in front of M. Rundubelo’s house, followed moments later by a Mitsubishi L-300 minibus.

“A passenger suddenly got out of the L-300 and placed the bag on the roadside, then got on the Avanza and left,” said eyewitness Nova Riatimogi, 27.

Another resident Sugeng Rundubelo, 29, said he saw two people get out of the L-300.

A few hours later, the Poso Police bomb squad arrived and secured the suspicious object.

Poso was an area plagued by sectarian conflict between Muslim and Christian communities from 1998 to 2000, when more than 2,000 people were killed or went missing. In 2001, the government sponsored a peace pact and was able to bring the two sides together to sign a peace agreement called the Malino Declaration. (The Jakarta Post)

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