Indonesians deported from Malaysia over Islamic State link

Indonesia's special counterterrorism detachment, Densus 88, on Wednesday questioned eight Indonesian citizens deported by Malaysian authorities after one of them had been found to have kept a picture of the Islamic State (IS) group flag on his smartphone.

Riau Islands Police chief Insp. Gen. Sambudi Gusdian said Singapore's Immigration & Checkpoints Authority (ICA) deported the eight Indonesians from the Woodlands Checkpoint, which is beside the city-state's border with Malaysia, after finding three pictures related to IS on the mobile phone of one of them.

According to the police, the three pictures, which were stored in the phone's file manager, were of the IS flag, of an IS activity and of a "sandal bomb structure".

"Singapore refused their entrance and put a 'Not To Land' stamp into their passports based on the mobile phone examination," Sambudi said on Wednesday.

The eight Indonesians ranged in age from 16 to 37 years, with most of them in their 20s, and the oldest, identified only by the initials REH, was considered the leader of the group. It was in REH's phone that the IS contents were found.

Sambudi said the eight left Padang, West Sumatra, on Jan 3, 2017 for Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, by plane, to preach and for REH to get medical treatment for his ears.

On January 7, the group proceeded to Phatani, Thailand, over land from Malaysia. They tried to enter Singapore on January 10, but were rejected. They were then sent back to Malaysia in custody.

After an intensive examination, however, the Malaysian authorities made a preliminary conclusion that the eight people subscribed to the mainstream teachings of Islam that actually rejected IS ideology.

The IS content on REH's cell phone, according to the investigation by the Malaysian authorities, came from a WhatsApp group he had once joined. "REH said he had left the group but did not know that the pictures had not yet been deleted," Sambudi said.

Nevertheless, Densus 88 still questioned the eight deportees at the headquarters of the Riau Islands police's mobile brigade (Brimob).

They had a week to conduct the interrogations.

The Batam immigration office previously claimed to have turned down 418 people applying for passports throughout the whole of 2016, the majority of whom were rejected because the office feared they wanted to go to the Middle East to join IS.

Batam immigration office head Teguh Prayitno said the passports were not granted because based on interviews with the applicants the office found indications that they would work illegally abroad and join IS.

"We did this as a preventive measure to prevent Indonesians from joining IS," said Teguh, declining to reveal the exact number of people whose applications had been turned down because they were suspected of being IS symphatisers.

Responding to the information, Sambudi expressed disappointment that the immigration office had not shared their findings with the police. "This is deplorable," he said.

Meanwhile, the Foreign Ministry's Indonesian citizen protection director, Lalu Muhammad Iqbal, confirmed the deportation of the eight people, saying they were reportedly students of an Islamic boarding school in Bukit Tinggi, West Sumatra.