Police shrug off report of IS-linked pilots

Police shrug off report of IS-linked pilots
Indonesian National Police chief Gen. Badrodin Haiti has insisted that the two Indonesian former pilots Ridwan Agustin (L) and Tommy Abu Alfatih, alias Tomi Hendratno (R) are merely sympathisers of the terrorist group.
PHOTO: Facebook

National Police chief Gen. Badrodin Haiti has insisted that two Indonesian former pilots alleged by the Australian Federal Police (AFP) to be members of Islamic State (IS) are merely sympathizers of the militant group.

"The most recent information indicates that they have shown support for IS on Facebook and other social media accounts. However, they are not IS members," Badrodin told reporters at the National Police headquarters in South Jakarta.

Badrodin said that the police were currently investigating allegations made by the AFP that Ridwan Agustin and Tomi Hendratno had already travelled to Syria to join IS. The police, he added, had yet to find any indications that the two former pilots had connections with IS networks in Indonesia.

"Up until last night [Thursday], they were both in Indonesia, not Syria. They were both in Bogor [West Java], although one of them has a house in Bandung. We are certain about that," he said, refusing to disclose which of the two he was referring to.

On Thursday, the Foreign Ministry said it would investigate whether Ridwan, also known as Ridwan Ahmad al-Indonesiy, and Tomi, also known as Tommy Abu Alfatih, had been radicalized by IS forces as suggested in the AFP's report.

The report, published on investigative website The Intercept on July 8, claimed that the two men posed an international security threat.

According to the report, Ridwan had previously flown for Indonesia AirAsia and indications of his interest in IS began to appear on his social media accounts in September 2014, including interaction with pro-IS accounts and with Indonesian fighters documenting their battles in Iraq and Syria.

The Intercept article quoted Indonesia AirAsia spokesperson Audrey Petriny as saying that Ridwan "no longer works for AirAsia, and therefore we are unable to comment".

On March 2015, according to the report, Ridwan posted his current location as Raqqa, Syria.

The second identified pilot, Tomi, had previously worked for charter airline company Premiair and is a former member of the Indonesian military.

He had left Premiair on June 1, Premiair quality and safety manager Norman Sukardi said.

According to Tomi's online profile, he attended flight school training in the US as recently as February - one month before Australian authorities identified him in their report. In December 2014, pro-IS material began appearing on his social media newsfeed.

The AFP operational intelligence report was distributed to law enforcement partners in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and the US, as well as to the European Police Office (Europol).

Foreign Minister spokesman Arrmanatha Nasir said the ministry had been unable as yet to verify the reports, but national security authorities had been alerted.

"We heard about the report this evening and we are asking for more information from authorities [...] including the possible whereabouts of the pilots," Arrmanatha said on Thursday.

Separately, Noor Huda Ismail, founder of the Institute of International Peace Building, said that allegations against Ridwan and Tomi showed that IS' influence had spread far beyond homegrown terrorist groups such as Jamaah Ansharut Tauhid (JAT), lead by IS supporter and terrorist convict Abu Bakar Ba'asyir.

Three groups, Noor said, were particularly vulnerable to IS influence: male teenagers, law enforcement officers and working professionals.

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