Indonesia Nabs Suspected Foreign Militants on Fake PassportsAgus Suhana and Neil Chatterjee
Indonesian police arrested four foreigners with fake passports suspected of involvement with a homegrown Islamic militant group, as China said it was seeking more information about whether the men hailed from there.
The four men were detained along with three Indonesians near Poso on Sulawesi island in the archipelago’s east after trying to flee into the mountains, according to national police chief Sutarman, who goes by one name. They came to Southeast Asia from Turkey and aimed to join the local group led by wanted terrorist Santoso, potentially to train and carry out attacks, Sutarman said late yesterday in Jakarta.
The four spoke Uighur, the language of an ethnic Muslim minority in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and the northwestern province of Xinjiang in China, he said. Unrest by Uighur separatists has risen in Xinjiang and beyond, prompting Chinese President Xi Jinping to order a crackdown earlier this year.
The arrests came as Indonesia tightens passport issuance for trips to the Middle East and is monitoring its citizens in Syria for Islamic State connections, Djoko Suyanto, the minister for law and human rights, said yesterday. As many as 200 Indonesians traveled to Syria to fight with the Islamic militant group, according to a report released last month by New York-based Soufan Group, which provides strategic analysis to governments.
“It looks increasingly like these men weren’t going to provide any assistance: They don’t speak English, Arabic or Turkish, let alone Indonesian,” said Sidney Jones, director of the Indonesia-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict. It’s “unlikely ISIS would send people with such limited language capacity.”
China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Beijing was seeking more information about the case. “We need to know about it further,” he told reporters when asked about the arrests today in Beijing.
Sutarman said the men are suspected of having traveled from Turkey to Cambodia by sea and then overland to Thailand, where they secured fake passports. They then traveled by plane to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia before heading to Indonesia, he said.
If the men were proven to have links to the Islamic State, it would be “an ominous new development in the terrorist picture in Indonesia,” said Keith Loveard, head of risk analysis at Jakarta-based security company Concord Consulting. “Terrorist elements have been able to exist in the area because of strong community support for hard-line beliefs and the correctness of Shariah principles.”
Sixty-six Indonesians have traveled to Iraq and Syria to fight and four have died there, Sutarman said. The government is increasing monitoring of areas prone to radical movements, including Poso, Ambon in the Maluku islands, and eastern and central Java, Suyanto said.
Poso is home to the Mujahideen Indonesia Timor, a group led by Santoso, Loveard said. It is the heartland of Indonesia’s home-grown attempts to create an area where Shariah, or Islamic law, prevails, and could be considered to have become part of the emerging “caliphate” claimed by Islamic State, he said.