A police raid over the weekend that left seven suspected terrorists dead in South Sulawesi and West Nusa Tenggara has raised fears that a militant training camp operating in Central Sulawesi may have spread its influence wider than previously thought.
Two suspected militants were shot dead in Makassar, South Sulawesi, on Friday, while five more were killed in Bima and Dompu districts in West Nusa Tenggara on Friday night and Saturday morning.
An investigator with Densus 88, the National Police’s elite counterterrorism squad that led both raids, said on Sunday that police believed all the suspects could be linked back to the training camp in Poso, Central Sulawesi, and to a similar camp in the Aceh highlands that was the subject of a massive police raid in early 2010.
“All these people may have been new faces implicated in new cases, but they were all linked to one another and to known terrorists,” the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The source highlighted the case of Ahmad Khalil, also known as Hasan and Kholid, who was killed in Friday’s raid outside of Makassar’s Wahidin Hospital.
From Aceh to Poso
The 35-year-old Hasan was a known graduate of the Aceh camp. After the camp was broken up, he fled to Poso, which police have now identified as the site of a terrorist training camp run by Santoso, the country’s most wanted terror suspect.
The Densus source said Hasan also took part in paramilitary training in South Sulawesi, where he helped arm the perpetrator behind an assassination attempt against Governor Syahrul Yasin Limpo last November.
The perpetrator, Awaluddin, threw a pipe bomb at the governor during a speech on Nov. 11 but it failed to detonate. He was immediately detained by police.
Prior to the incident, he was given a handgun by Hasan. The two are believed to have known each other from the Poso camp, the Densus 88 source said.
The second suspect killed in the Makassar raid was Asmar, also known as Abu Uswah, who was believed to have planned the bomb plot against the governor.
Police believe that he took part in terrorist training camps throughout Sulawesi, including in Poso, and that he was part of the group that killed two police officers in Poso who were scouting the location of the militant camp back in October.
“Abu Uswah was also wanted by police for his role in the violence in Mambi,” the Densus 88 source said, referring to a subdistrict of Mamasa district in West Sulawesi that was the site of deadly clashes in 2005 over a proposal to create a breakaway region.
Five people were killed during the clashes there.
Not all the suspects sought in the Makassar operation were killed, however. Police managed to arrest four people, all of whom were believed to have been plotting terrorist attacks in the province.
One of those arrested was identified as Arbain Yusuf, 30, who was a known associate of Abu Uswah’s. He was believed to have bought bomb-making materials for the group and hid known fugitives from the police.
Two others were Muhammad Thamrin, 40, and Fadli, 23, who were recruited by Abu Aswah and helped buy bomb-making materials. They also took part in terrorist training.
The fourth suspect, Syarifudin, allegedly funded terrorist activities throughout Sulawesi, raising the money for attacks and providing refuge to suspects sought by the police.
At least two of the suspected terrorists killed in West Nusa Tenggara were also believed to have ties to the Sulawesi group.
Two suspects were killed at the border between Bima and Dompu on Friday night. Both men, identified as Roi from Makassar, and Bachtiar from Bima, were believed to have roles in a series of terror attacks in Poso, local police said.
Roi was suspected of helping assemble the bomb for the attack on Yasin Limpo, having previously been part of a militant training camp in South Sulawesi.
In a separate raid on Saturday morning in Bima, Densus 88 killed three suspects during a gunfight. One of the suspects had planted explosives on his body, police said.
The identity of only one of the three suspects, named Andi Brekele, has been confirmed by police.
Police later found three bombs at the scene, but managed to defuse them. Densus 88 has reported that they were intended for use in attacks in Bima and Dompu.
Two other suspects who fled the scene remained at large. Police have still not been able to identify either of them.
Blast from the past
While the Poso training camp appears to be the common denominator tying all the suspects and recent attacks together, officials say deeper ties can be traced back to the Aceh camp, and ultimately to a regional terrorist organization with links to Al Qaeda.
The Aceh camp outfit was backed by a who’s who of the Indonesian terrorist underground network, including firebrand cleric Abu Bakar Bashir, who was convicted in June 2011 of raising funds for terrorists, among a raft of other charges.
Bashir is also the founder of the hard-line Islamic group Jemaah Ansharut Tauhid, whose members have been implicated in several terrorist attacks and plots against the police in Solo, Central Java, and across Sulawesi. Santoso, the head of the Poso camp, is a known protege of Abu Tholut, a leading JAT operative and the convicted leader of the Aceh camp.
Although Bashir denies his group’s role in militant activity, the US government has branded JAT a terrorist organization.
Bashir is himself believed to be the spiritual head of Jemaah Islamiyah, a Southeast Asian terror network with ties to Al Qaeda.
The series of raids has also underscored Abu Uswah’s prominence in the terrorist underground and his ability to recruit new members in South Sulawesi and West Nusa Tenggara.
Ali Fauzi, a step-brother of two of the three terrorists executed for the 2002 Bali bombings, said he was acquainted with Abu Uswah from their days leading a jihad, or holy war, during the height of the Muslim-Christian sectarian strife in Ambon, Maluku, in 1998.
“I was with him for about two and a half years in Ambon, where he was the head of the Jundullah Warriors who were deployed there from Makassar,” Ali said. “So I’m not too surprised to hear that he was still active in the network surrounded by new faces.”
The Jundullah group came into the national spotlight again in 2001, when the group was blamed for a bombing at the Makassar home of senior Golkar Party official and business magnate Jusuf Kalla.
Three people were killed and 14 injured in the attack, although Kalla, who would go on to become vice president in 2004, was not hurt.
The discovery of intricate and long-running links between seemingly disparate terrorist groups in Aceh, Java, Sulawesi and now West Nusa Tenggara has highlighted the difficulty police face in quelling the growth and spread of such groups.