An Indonesian anti-terrorism squad shot dead two suspected militants and arrested another, police said Saturday. A squad member also died in the shootout, which came a day after the militants killed a police officer following the arrest of a key member of a terrorist cell, authorities said.
Police received a tip that members of a terror group believed to be responsible for Thursday’s killing of the police officer were planning more attacks on Indonesia’s main island of Java, national police spokesman Brig. Gen. Boy Rafli Amar said.
He said members of an elite anti-terrorism squad tried to capture the three suspects late Friday at a food stall in Central Java’s Solo town, the hometown of radical Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Bashir, but shot them when they opened fire, killing two men — Farhan, 19, and Mukhsin, 19, — and wounding another, who was then arrested. One of the suspects shot dead Second Brig. Suherman, a member of the anti-terrorism squad, police said.
“There are strong indications that they were involved in three terrorist attacks recently against security forces,” Boy said, adding that police were investigating alleged connections to Jemaah Anshorut Tauhid — an organization founded by Bashir and designated a terrorist group by the US in February — or another group.
Farhan was the stepson of convicted terrorist Abu Omar and a former disciple of Bashir’s Al-Mukmin Ngruki Sukoharjo Islamic boarding school, National Police spokesman Insp. Gen. Anang Iskandar said on Saturday. Farhan was previously in the Philippines, where radical Islamic groups are waging a counter-insurgency in the south.
“He lived for a long time in the south Philippines and only returned here in 2010,” Anang said.
Police released few details on the backgrounds of Mukhsin, who was killed in the raid, or Bayu, who was arrested.
Bayu will brought to Jakarta for further questioning, police said.
Densus 88 has led a long and successful crackdown on militant groups over the last decade, claiming the scalps of some of the country’s most notorious terrorist suspects blamed for major attacks.
The unit has faced criticism, however, for using excessive force and targeting separatists and pro-independence activists.
“These men were armed and resisted arrest,” President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said. “We are almost certain they were connected with a terror network, and although there weren’t many in this ambush, we can be sure they were not working alone.”
Friday night’s shootout came on the heels of a string of violent attacks on police officers in recent weeks.
Two men on a motorbike stormed a police post late Thursday in Solo, fatally shot an officer and fled, Boy said. Hours earlier, an anti-terrorism unit had raided a house in Bandung in West Java province and arrested computer expert Maman Kurniawan, an alleged Muslim militant.
According to Ansyaad Mbai, the head of Indonesia’s anti-terror agency, Kurniawan is a key member of a new terror cell in North Sumatra’s Medan city, and has helped the group hack into several websites to raise nearly $700,000 to finance their activities.
During the raid, police seized several computers and bank transfer documents that link the Medan group with other terror cells in Solo and Poso on Sulawesi island, Boy said.
Thursday’s attack on the police officer came two weeks after two gunmen fired at a police post in Solo, injuring two police officers. A day later, an assailant threw a grenade at another post that wounded two more officers.
Recent terror attacks in the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation have been by individuals or small groups, targeting local “infidels” instead of Westerners, with less deadly results.
The change signals Indonesia’s success in tamping down on its main underground terror networks, but also shows how radical groups still operating in the open remain potent breeding grounds where angry young men can turn into attackers.
Indonesia, a secular nation of 237 million, was thrust onto the front lines in the battle against terrorism when the Al Qaida-linked network Jemaah Islamiyah attacked two crowded nightclubs on Bali island in 2002, killing 202 people, mostly foreign tourists.
Though the group carried out several other deadly attacks in the years that followed, it has since been largely dismantled, replaced by several smaller, less organized cells.