The Indonesian government has discovered that a group of Indonesian nationals detained after attempting to cross the Turkish border into Syria, allegedly to join the Islamic State (IS) militant group, are mostly children.
They are currently being held in the Turkish border city of Gaziantep, 97 kilometres north of Aleppo, Syria.
Coordinating politics, legal and security affairs minister Tedjo Edhy Purdijatno said on Thursday that the group found at the Turkish border was not the group of 16 people that had earlier been reported missing from a tour group in Istanbul. "[This is] a second group. There is one man, four women and 11 children," he said at the Presidential Office.
Tedjo said the government could not confirm whether joining the militant group was the motive of their travel but the women had said that they were going to Syria to meet their husbands.
Last week, another group of 16 Indonesians had reportedly separated themselves from a tour party of 25 immediately after passing through immigration in Istanbul. They claimed that they would arrange family affairs but they failed to rejoin the tour party at the time scheduled in order to return home on March 4.
Foreign minister Retno LP Marsudi confirmed that there were two groups of Indonesians attempting to reach Syria via Turkey. "There is indeed an indication that the [latest] 16 are different from the 16 [Indonesians] who [previously] went missing [in Turkey]," she said.
"I cannot confirm this yet since we have yet to receive formal confirmation from the Turkish authorities," she added.
According to Retno, president Joko "Jokowi" Widodo has told her to continue coordinating with other relevant ministries to investigate the matter.
Reuters reported that Turkish authorities detained 16 Indonesians from three families who were trying to cross into Syria, a route frequently used by potential IS recruits.
"These 16 people - three families - are currently being held at a holding centre [...] and we have information that Indonesia's Ankara embassy is in touch with the group," Turkish foreign ministry spokesman Tanju Bilgic said in a statement on Wednesday as quoted by Reuters.
National Intelligence Agency (BIN) chief Marciano Norman said that a team comprising foreign ministry officials and a team of BIN officers were heading to Turkey to investigate the groups.
Marciano said there were several possible motives for Indonesians joining the militant group.
"Some join the rebel group to work there because of a promise of high salaries while others really want to join the [IS] fight," he said.
Tedjo said Jokowi had ordered him to lead meetings and coordination among all relevant ministries and institutions to find ways to anticipate Indonesians traveling to Syria to join IS since Indonesia had no legal framework to prevent its citizens from joining radical groups abroad.
"There is no regulation to prevent [Indonesians] from exiting the country [to join IS or any radical groups]. The president instructed me to coordinate efforts on this matter," Tedjo said. "There are concerns that they might influence others [to support the IS movement]".