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Defeating Santoso's terror group, it is not an easy task

Ahad 01 Mei 2016 23:24 WIB

Red: Julkifli Marbun

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Foto: Antara/edy

REPUBLIKA.CO.ID, By: Toni Ervianto *)

National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT) chief Comr. Gen. Tito Karnavian said that Santoso had reportedly threatened to shoot dead two MIT members of Chinese Uighur ethnicity who were determined to escape. The two Uighur terrorists are identified only as Abdul and Ibrohim. Amid a constant siege waged by a joint police-military team, Santoso aka Abu Wardah, leader of the East Indonesia Mujahidin (MIT) terrorist group, is growing frustrated.  Tito further explained that Abdul and Ibrohim were the only two remaining Uighur MIT members after four Uighurs, namely Alphin Zubaidan, Atlinci Bayram, Abdul Basyit and Bozoglan, were arrested in Parigi Moutong regency in 2014.

The four Uighur terrorists killed in the shootout were Sobron alias Son Haji alias Abu Sulaiman, Joko Uighur alias Turang Ismail, Magalasi Bahtusan alias Farok and Nuretin alias Abdul. The Uighur terrorists reportedly left their country by sailing to Cambodia before travelling overland through Thailand to Kuala Lumpur, from where they flew to Indonesia. In Indonesia, the foreign terrorists are reported to have travelled to Bandung, West Java. They later flew to Makassar, South Sulawesi, journeying onward to Palu, Central Sulawesi. From Palu, the Uighurs traveled to Parigi Moutong and Poso.

More than 2,500 joint security personnel comprising 1,500 police members from Densus 88 counterterrorism squad and Brimob.  The remaining 1,000 members are from the Navy Amphibious Reconnaissance Battalion and Special Underwater Unit. In the latest update, the Army sent fresh reinforcements consisting of 880 special agents have been deployed in Poso to pursue Santoso and his gang. Despite the large number of personnel, the thick forests, steep mountains and deep ravines of the region pose serious challenges to the hunt. National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT) chief Comr. Gen. Tito Karnavian said on Sunday that Santoso had reportedly threatened to shoot dead two MIT members of Chinese Uighur ethnicity who were determined to escape. The two Uighur terrorists are identified only as Abdul and Ibrohim.

Earlier, the East Indonesia Mujahidin terror group, led by Santoso, alias Abu Wardah, Indonesia’s most wanted man, has reportedly begun to run out of food in the forests of Lembah Napu, Poso, Central Sulawesi.

The terror group had been living in forests and mountains across Poso since 2013. All that time, Santoso’s terrorists obtained food from couriers living in villages and cities. They also robbed local residents in villages to fulfill their basic needs. It is also reported that Santoso’s group has been forced to eat wild plants growing in the forests such as rattan sprouts and the tips of areca nut trees. “They steal harvest yields from local people. They steal corn, gourd, cabbages and beans,” Central Sulawesi Police chief Brig. Gen. Rudy Sufahriadi said.

Such a condition, Rudy said, showed that Santoso’s group was facing difficulties in obtaining staple foods. Its movements are limited as Operation Tinombala personnel have managed to isolate the terror group. “This is why they now depend on resources in the forests,” said Rudy.

It Is Not an Easy Task

According to Tinombala Operations task, one primary objective is to eradicate the East Indonesia Mujahidin (MIT), a Poso-based militant group that evolved from a local branch of Jamaah Islamiyah (JI) to a staunch supporter of the Islamic State (IS), a radical Middle-East organization. Accomplishing these task isn’t an easy task for Tinombala Task Forces, at least it has several reasons : First, despite the number of MIT members decreasing since the beginning of Operation Tinombala in January, the notorious Santoso and his gang are still committing guerilla warfare in the name of jihad as though they are immortal.

Second, Santoso’s terror group is a hard target because the Santoso group is considered part of global terrorist operations and it is little wonder that the government has launched a massive operation to rid the mountainous region of Poso of the MIT. Up until February, 392 Indonesians had joined IS in Syria. Just like other extremist groups, the MIT consists of experienced combatants and well-trained jihadists of other nationalities, such as the Uighur from China who joined in 2014. The sworn allegiance has given MIT advantages in the form of massive support from Indonesian IS supporters as well as aid from the global IS organization.

Besides guerilla warfare ability, the MIT has a structured hierarchy. Santoso sits at the top, along with Basri, aka Bagong, and two Chinese Uighurs. They build external communications, arrange tactics and strategies and train frontline executors in jihadi essentials, such as bomb-making.

The second level consists of executors who stand on the front line against security officers and are mostly MIT members. Meanwhile, the third level consists of numerous supporters who often act as couriers for the MIT to deliver supplies such as clothes, food, money, weapons and bomb-making materials.

In terms of weapon supplies, the MIT is equipped with sophisticated firearms. During a shootout in August 2015 in which Bado, a MIT courier, was killed, the antiterror squad seized a number of weapons, including rifles and hand-made pipe bombs. Among them was a Beretta M60 assault rifle, which is commonly used by the US Marine Corps to attack tanks and an M-16 rifle, which were believed to have been smuggled from the Philippines, as well as a Pindad SS1, which is the standard assault rifle of the Indonesian Military.

Third, Santoso himself has a bad charracter, an extremist attitude, a split personality and the most dangerous militant group leader for a reason. He is an expert in guerilla warfare, mapping, bomb-making and in utilizing every part of the forest for his cause. There are reports that one of the 27 MIT members, which include three women from Bima, West Nusa Tenggara, and two Chinese Uighurs, is a former illegal logger who knows the forest like the back of his hand. He is an expert in guerilla warfare, mapping, bomb-making and in utilizing every part of the forest for his cause. There are reports that one of the 27 MIT members, which include three women from Bima, West Nusa Tenggara, and two Chinese Uighurs, is a former illegal logger who knows the forest like the back of his hand.

Quoting from www.thejakartapost.com, known by name the Abu Wardah, Santoso is a former seller of Islamic books. He is a Javanese who used to live in Tambarana, Poso.

His passion for radical jihad was fueled by infamous cleric Abu Bakar Ba’asyir through the recording of his preaching about Muslim massacres in Chechnya and Palestine.

He first appeared as a jihadist during the religious-fueled conflict between Muslims and Christians in Poso in 2000. Santoso ignored the Malino treaty, which the government-sponsored peace treaty was signed by the two conflicting communities.  Santoso to become active in the Tanah Runtuh group, a local affiliate of the JI, where he mostly learned about frontline jihad. He forged his violent-version of jihad in a military training camp established by Waqalah Uhud Mantiqi III, a wing of JI in the Sulawesi-Maluku area.

He first grabbed the police’s attention in August 2004, when he was arrested for attempting to rob a truck carrying clove cigarettes with six others. He later disappeared.

Experts and officials believe that Santoso studied a radical interpretation of Islam in Ngruki, Surakarta, Central Java, as well as learned about bomb-making in Mindanao, the Philippines. It was not until the military training camp in Jantho, Aceh, was dismantled in 2010 when Jamaah Ansharut Tauhid (JAT) entered Poso. JI’s splinter cell formed by Ba’asyir piqued Santoso’s interest in making a comeback with an offensive jihad. He then led the newly established military unit of JAT, and later formed his own group, the MIT, with the help of followers in Poso who passionately believe that Indonesia was a land for jihad.

Fourth, The notorious Santoso’s group is a terror group without no mercy to their enemies or their hostages. The group first shocked the country in 2012. Two days after the MIT declared its establishment, two dead police officers were found in a hastily dug grave in Tamanjeka village of Poso. In November 2014, a 50-year-old local resident named M. Fadli was found dead in front of his house in Tangkura village in Poso, with his neck slashed by a machete. Santoso’s gang claimed responsibility. In Parigi Moutong regency last September, the group was reportedly involved in the murder of residents Nyoman Astika, 70, and Hengky, 50, who were found beheaded, while the body of one unidentified victim was found covered with stab wounds. In April 2015, after a gunfight with the police took the life of Daeng Koro—one of Santoso’s closest allies -- the group allegedly beheaded Koro’s father in-law. The man was accused of leaking information about the group to Densus 88. His body was found in Malino village, Central Sulawesi. The Santoso group has zero tolerance for people thought to be police informants, even close relatives of the MIT. This punitive stance is heavily related to their guerilla strategy.

    

Fifth, the main difficulties in the operation are not only the harsh terrain or MIT’s elusiveness. It is the large number of MIT supporters that has become the main obstacle. Besides that, the harsh terrain and bad weather, as well as the risk of death on the mountain. Another obstacle is food supplies. Meanwhile, years of experience in moving around the region’s mountain and villages have enabled MIT members to identify the routes easily; they know the terrain and where to run.

A Comprehensive Solutions

After Santoso’s terror group was left from Mount Biru, Central Sulawesi, a recent report claims that Santoso is on his own deep in forest on Mount Wuasa in Central Lore subdistrict, Poso regency.  These information should cbe followed by Tinombala Operations personell to pursue, conquer and capture Santoso and his gang dead or alive. National Police chief Gen. Badrodin Haiti has asserted that security personnel will continue the operation until Santoso is captured, dead or alive. “If the group is not stopped, it will get stronger and will turn into the insurgents like in the Philippines and Thailand,” he said.

Eventhough, it isn’t an easy task, defeating or conquering Santoso’s group with military operation is an early step must be done, because soft approach through dialogue couldn’t be implemented with these group, because one has a radical and extremist mind which is reflected by their wrong ideology.

One of the opportunity to conquer Santoso’s group is obviously among terror’s group have later conflicts in the running strategy that led to a rift between them.

Experts say there is rivalry between militant groups in Indonesia, such as the MIT, Darul Islam, JAT and Tauhid Wal Jihad, which were influenced by Amman Abdurrahman, a prominent IS figure in Indonesia. The changes in global jihadist geopolitics have closely affected Indonesia’s militant map. The JI in Lamongan, East Java, which was behind MIT’s escalating power in recent years, has split into two factions. Previously, the Lamongan jihadist cell recruited people and sent them to Poso for training, as well as connected Santoso to pro-jihad media such as al-Qaeda’s Global Islamic Media Front initially and then with the IS.

After the IS declared war on its rival militant group in the Middle East, al-Qaeda, some JI members turned to IS. JAT, which Santoso used to belong to, broke up when Ba’asyir, a lifelong supporter of al-Qaeda, suddenly changed course and pledged support for IS. Almost 90 percent of JAT members then left and created a new anti-IS group named Jama’ah Ansharusy-Syariah [JAS]. JAS remained with the Indonesian Mujahidin Council (MMI) and senior leaders of the JI who had aligned with al-Qaeda and al-Nusra Front, the Syrian branch of al-Qaeda.

The radical cleric, who first spread takfiri (radical Wahabbi doctrine that views non-adherents as infidels) in Indonesia, has close ties to Santoso. Amman is currently detained on Nusakambangan prison island, Central Java, from where it is suspected that he oversees the movement of his followers.

While al-Qaeda affiliates primarily focus their attacks on Western interests, IS has declared war on anyone who refuses to follow it, even if they are fellow Muslims. In Poso, the Santoso gang call all Muslims who associate themselves with security personnel enemies.

Unlike al-Qaeda, which launches mass bombings, IS affiliates choose a pattern classified as “marauding terrorist firearm attacks” in which a team of suicide bombers and gunmen coordinate attacks. Their equipment is simpler and cheaper, and not as easy to detect.

Bahrumsyah who is also the commander of Khatibah Nusantara, IS’ Southeast Asia unit, has assisted Santoso financially by transferring funds both directly to an MIT-affiliated bank account and indirectly to the Philippines to purchase weapons for the group. During a raid in Taunca village, the police found transaction documents suggesting a flow of funds from IS to the MIT. The funds were transferred to bank accounts belonging to MIT supporters or MIT-affiliated foundations, around Rp 2 million [US$ 144] per transaction. The main task for a special agents which is joined in Tinombala Operation is finding who “man behind the gun” and their link in Indonesia or an abroad are supporting financial to East Indonesia Mujahidin.

Even if Santoso and his gang are captured dead or alive, the government will still need stay on guard against the silent supporters who may continue his violent jihad. An offensive operation maybe the key, but addressing the root cause is the only answer to the predicament.

The deradicalization process should be intensively implemented time to time and always counters MIT supporters propaganda. Dialogue, seminar or public debate on the urgent multicultural thought and also how is a true religious comprehension especially on jihad issues are significant to realize, because spiritual jihad existed in the Koran, violent jihad was not contextual for Indonesia.

*The writer has earned his master at the University of Indonesia (UI) and a terror threats observer. Residing in Jakarta.

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