Top Indonesian fighter with IS killed in Syria

Bahrumsyah is the Indonesian commander of South-east Asian militants who have joined ISIS in the Middle East.
Youtube screengrab

Followers of the Islamic State (IS) group in Indonesia for the second time in less than a year have lost a leader with the reported death of Bahrumsyah, an Indonesian militant fighting in Syria who is said to have died on a suicide mission in the war-torn country.

Bahrumsyah's death comes only four months after IS Indonesian jihadist Abu Jandal al Yemeni Al Indonesi alias Salim Mubarak Atamimi was killed during a US-led international coalition assault in Mosul, Iraq, in November 2016.

The death of Bahrumsyah leaves Bahrun Naim as the only Indonesian IS fighter in Syria with a reputable position in the terrorist organisation.

The Amaq news agency, an official media outlet used by IS to spread information about its activities, describes Bahrumsyah's death as an act of martyrdom. Bahrumsyah blew himself up with a car bomb aimed at a group of Shiite soldiers fighting for the government of President Bashar al-Assad on Monday.

His reported death prompted the National Police's Densus 88 counterterrorism squad and the National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT) to dispatch a team to work with police in Syria to conduct an autopsy on his body.

"We are working with the police to confirm the death. I told [National Police] spokesman Boy Rafly that a team from Densus had been assigned to confirm his death. The team will fly [to Syria] to work with local police to get accurate data," BNPT director of protection Brig. Gen. Herwan Chaidir said on Wednesday.

Separately, another National Police spokesman, Martinus Sitompul, said police were also working with the Foreign Ministry and Interpol to seek confirmation of Bahrumsyah's death.

Martinus said if Bahrumsyah died in the attack, it could demoralize IS supporters in Indonesia. "We want to acquire as accurate as possible information about [his death]," Martinus told The Jakarta Post.

University of Indonesia terrorism expert Ridwan Habib said the Amaq news agency was a credible source.

"The leader of IS in Indonesia, Bahrumsyah, or Abu Muhammad Al Indonesia, has been confirmed dead. The IS official media, Amaq news agency, said he was killed during a suicide mission in Palmyra Syria on March 13," Ridwan said, relaying a news item posted in Arabic by Amaq.

Bahrumsyah was a prominent IS leader from Indonesia who also worked to recruit people to join the fight in Syria. He controlled several terrorist cells that have around 800 members in Jakarta and its satellite cities Bogor, Depok, Tanggerang and Bekasi.

(Read also: Indonesian militant in Syria ordering attacks in Malaysia)

"He was known as part of the West Mujahidin group in Indonesia and one of the initiators of the Thamrin attack in Jakarta," Ridwan said, referring to the attack that took place on Jan. 14, 2016.

Densus 88 arrested Bahrumsyah's third wife, identified as Nia Kurniawati, who was among 17 Indonesians deported from Turkey last January, for allegedly attempting to enter Syria to join her husband.

Bahrumsyah is a graduate of Jakarta State Islamic University (UIN) Syarief Hidayatullah in Ciputat, South Tangerang, Banten province.

He made headlines in 2014 when he uploaded a recruitment video in August 2014 onto YouTube. The video, according to experts, has inspired hundreds of Indonesian jihadists to move to Syria.

Separately, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Arrmanatha Nasir maintained that the ministry could not verify the death of Bahrumsyah, or any other Indonesian citizen who had moved across borders outside of legal procedures.

"As I have repeatedly said, IS has never given us the courtesy of submitting an official list of foreign citizens who have pledged loyalty to them. Neither have they declared their whereabouts," Arrmanatha told reporters in Jakarta on Wednesday.

"So if an [IS sympathizer] dies abroad, we have no way of verifying such information," he said.