Terrorist killed was ‘symbolic heart’ of Indonesian jihadi movement

Agence France-Presse

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Terrorist killed was ‘symbolic heart’ of Indonesian jihadi movement
While the killing of the Islamic State (ISIS) group supporter is a major victory for authorities, analysts caution that other extremist cells now pose a greater threat

JAKARTA, Indonesia – Indonesian extremist leader Santoso, killed in a shootout with security forces, was a potent symbol who kept up a violent struggle in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation that inspired legions of other militants.

But while the killing of the Islamic State (ISIS) group supporter is a major victory for authorities, analysts caution that other extremist cells now pose a greater threat. 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.

Santoso and his ragtag bunch of poorly armed fighters, called the Eastern Indonesia Mujahideen, had been hiding out amid jungles and mountains around Poso on the central island of Sulawesi for several years, with the area gaining a reputation as a militant hotbed.

His group rose to prominence after carrying out deadly assaults on security forces and by training militants from across the archipelago. In recent times Chinese Uighur radicals joined the militants, and Santoso developed links with Indonesians fighting with ISIS, who are believed to have sent him substantial funds.

The United States in March put Santoso, who like many Indonesians goes by one name, on a list of global terrorists.

“There have been well over 100 people who have gone through his training network, and therefore developed some kind of ties with him, so that he has become the symbolic heart of the jihadi movement,” Sidney Jones, director of Jakarta think-tank the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict, told AFP.

“The combination of his attacks on police, plus his training, contacts with Syria, and his symbolic importance, make him an important catch.”

The security forces’ sustained campaign to pin Santoso down finally paid off Monday, when he was killed in a shootout in Tambarana village in Poso.

Thorn in the side

The group’s attacks were mostly low-level and targeted domestic security forces – a far cry from the bloody assaults of the early 2000s that killed many foreigners – but he remained a thorn in the side of authorities.

Santoso and his group of fighters — which have dwindled to around 20 following the authorities’ campaign — were among the few in Indonesia that remained a real threat, after a years-long, largely successful crackdown severely weakened other militant groups.

Indonesia launched the clampdown after the extremist attacks of the early 2000s, including the 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202 people.

Santoso, known by several aliases including Abu Wardah, became involved in Islamist extremism during bloody fighting between Muslims and Christians around his home district of Poso from the late 1990s to the early 2000s, that left hundreds dead.

After a peace deal to end the Poso conflict, he joined a local affiliate of Jemaah Islamiyah, the group blamed for the Bali bombings.

He later formed the Eastern Indonesia Mujahideen, and the group came to the attention of authorities when his men killed two police officers in 2011, propelling Santoso to the top of the most wanted list.

His men engaged in more deadly attacks against security forces in the years that followed and, as his reputation grew in jihadi circles, militants flocked to his training camps.

“He earned respect from other militant groups because he actually went out and took action,” said Taufik Andrie, an expert in Islamist militancy.

Still, analysts say he has posed little real threat recently as authorities had him cornered in the jungle during their long quest to catch him. – Rappler.com

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