Indonesian elite troops enter forest to hunt for most wanted terrorist suspect Santoso

PHOTO: The Jakarta Post/Asia News Network

Elite troops from the National Police and Indonesian military (TNI) have moved into the forest of Poso regency, Central Sulawesi,to pursue members of the East Indonesia Mujahidin (MIT) terror group led by the country's most wanted militant Santoso.

Senior Commander Leo Bona Lubis, who leads the Operation Tinombala to flush out Santoso, said that many of the troops had spread throughout the forest and were now posted at key posts, while others had only recently finished a briefing at Battalion 714 Sintuwu Maroso in Poso.

More than 1,000 Kopaska troops - Indonesia's equivalent of the US Navy Seals - arrived in Poso on Sunday from Surabaya to join a group of about 880 men from Kopassus, the army's special forces unitwho landed on Saturday in Operation Tinombala.

Some 2,000 policemen and soldiers were already involved in what is regarded as President Joko Widodo's first large-scale counter-terrorism operation since he took office in 2014.

It is the first major assault on a home-grown terror group since 2009. In that year, militants from the Jemaah Islamiah bombed the JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton hotels in Jakarta, leaving seven dead and 50 injured, including a number of foreigners.

Lubis, who is also Central Sulawesi Police deputy chief, told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday the briefing covered technical matters and details could not be publicized.

"The briefing was to forge synergy in the field," Lubis said at the Poso Regency Police headquarters on Tuesday morning.

Around 1,500 police Mobile Brigade (Brimob) troops were currently deployed in Poso, said Lubis, consisting of pioneer, diving and skydiving members. TNI soldier numbers, according to Lubis, were nearly the same as those of Brimob.

"In total, around 2,500 police and TNI personnel have been deployed," said Lubis.

They have been deployed to pursue the MIT group, currently thought to consist of 45 members. The location of the manhunt, added Lubis, is very harsh and includes dense forests and mountainous terrain that stretches for approximately 7,000 kilometers.

Besides the rough terrain, several of the MIT members are former illegal loggers and are, subsequently, very familiar with the area, said Lubis.

He expressed optimism that Operation Tinombala would quash Santoso, whose real name is Abu Wardah, and his followers.

"We managed to kill one member on Jan 15, 2016, in Gunung Tineba, Taunca, Poso Pesisir," said Lubis, adding that the body of the deceased member of Santoso's gang, identified only as R, who was shot and killed, was being kept at the Central Sulawesi Police Bhayangkara Hospital's morgue in Palu as it had not yet been collected by relatives.

According to Lubis, the deceased hailed from Java and is thought to have joined Santoso just three months before he was killed in the shootout.

Meanwhile, in South Sulawesi, members of the police counterterrorism unit Densus 88 and Luwu regency Police arrested two Poso terror suspects in Belopa, Luwu, on Monday evening.

Both of them were transferred to Jakarta by plane on Tuesday evening.

Luwu Regency Police chief Adj. Sr. Comr. Adex Yudiswan said police identified the suspects as Chandra, of Belopa and Ardi, a newcomer who had been staying at Chandra's house for the past two weeks.

According to Adex, Ardi had been on the Poso Police wanted list in Central Sulawesi. He killed two Poso Regency Police members and mutilated their bodies in Taman Jeka, Poso, in 2011.

"The Densus 88 team had also been in Luwu in pursuit of two male terror suspects from Poso and the two men were, by chance, Ardi and Chandra. We immediately teamed up to capture them," said Adex.

Both suspects resisted, but as they were not armed they were easily been overpowered.

Prior to their eventual transfer to Jakarta, Ardi and Chandra were taken to the Luwu Regency Police headquarters for questioning and then sent to Makassar, South Sulawesi.

Densus 88 and Luwu Police personnel seized evidence, including sharp weapons, camouflage clothing that resembled TNI uniforms, police uniforms and a box filled with books and communications gear.