Police kill militants, say 1 may be Indonesia's most wanted

Jul 20, 2016, 04:37

About 2,500 security personnel, including elite army troops, intensified operations this year in Poso, a mountainous district of Central Sulawesi province considered an extremist hotbed, to try to capture Santoso and his followers.

He told AFP: "It's definitely Santoso".

"The group is obviously weakened now that we have got the leader", national police chief Tito Karnavian said, as he confirmed the militant's death.

Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Luhut Pandjaitan has said that even though Santoso had been killed, Indonesian security forces involved in Operation Tinombala - the kill-or-capture mission against Santoso's group - would continue going after the remaining MIT members.

Santoso pledged allegiance to ISIS in 2014, becoming the first Indonesian to publicly do so.

Santoso's death is a major victory for the Indonesian authorities who had pursued the extremist for five years, sending thousands of security forces to search for him and his band of a few dozen followers in their remote jungle hideouts.

"We can say that 90 percent, one of the bodies was Santoso, and 70 percent, Basri", said Gen. Tito Karnavian, the national police chief.

Numerous people who had met Santoso or fought alongside him had been asked to identify the body, and confirmed it was him, police said.

But Santoso's group remained a thorn in the side of the government, with the long-haired, gun-toting militant regularly appearing in videos urging extremists to launch attacks on the security forces. A deadly, ISIS-claimed attack on Jakarta in January was carried out by Java-based militants, and Santoso is not believed to have played a role. Initially, Indonesian militants directed their attacks toward symbols of the western world (the 2002/2005 Bali bombings and the 2003/2009 JW Marriott and Ritz Carlton hotel bombings in Jakarta).

The extremist, known by several aliases including Abu Wardah, was killed alongside one other militant in Tambarana village in Poso.

Police carry body bags, one of which is believed to contain the remains of Santoso, from an ambulance at a hospital in Palu, Central Sulawesi, July 19, 2016.

Several were killed fighting with the Eastern Indonesia Mujahideen, and in July previous year four Uighurs were jailed after being caught on Sulawesi attempting to join the group.

While JI targeted Western establishments, MIT became known after its series of attacks targeting police officers and police facilities in 2012 - in what many see as a retaliation against the police's crackdown on local terror cells.

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