Officials say the hills and forests of Central Sulawesi – once the scene of horrific sectarian conflict – have become a haven for terrorists
A major security operation under way in Poso, Central Sulawesi has uncovered a suspected terrorist training site on Gunung Biru (Blue Mountain), not far from the place where the dead bodies of two missing policemen were found in early October, multiple media have reported.
Police found weapons, hiding places dug in the ground and the word “jihad” written on a tree at the site, a clearing about two hectares in size in the midst of a thick forest.
Live mines, apparently placed to target security forces, were successfully deactivated, Central Sulawesi Police Chief Dewa Parsana told the Antara News Agency. A 300-strong joint force of police and soldiers is combing the area, hunting for militants and any other explosives that could harm local residents working in a nearby cocoa plantation.
The clearing is about 2km from where two missing policemen were found on October 16th, buried together in a hole, their throats slit. They had been sent to the area to investigate an alleged paramilitary training camp linked to extremist Islamist group Jamaah Ansharut Tauhid (JAT).
The following day, security forces mounted an aggressive operation in the area which is still unfolding. Major events are summarised here. [LINK TO TIMELINE]
Officials say that militants who once gathered in the hills of Aceh have decamped to Central Sulawesi, a place already scarred by a history of Christian-Muslim violence.
“Since 2010, terrorist groups wanted to make Aceh a militant training base because of the geographical reason. But we have successfully defeated their plan,” National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT) head Ansyaad Mbai told Khabar Southeast Asia.
“Therefore they looked for a new place, which ended up in Poso. They chose Poso because of its geography and history, since Poso was a conflict area back in 1998 and 2000.”
From the late 1990s to the mid-2000s, Poso was home to sectarian conflict between Muslims and Christians in which 1,000 people were reportedly killed.
Since then, Poso has become a terrorism hotbed, hosting several terrorism cells. The groups are trying to reignite sectarian conflict in the region, Mbai said.
“Their goal is to establish an Islamic state based on their version of Sharia Islam.” Ansyaad said. “If the scenario goes as expected, they would call for a jihad,” he said.
“However, the local communities are aware of what is happening. They are not easily provoked because they have been suffering from previous experiences,” he said. Experts: terrorists trying to use Poso as base
At a recent forum in Jakarta, terrorism expert Solahuddin said that militants are trying to establish a new jihad movement in Poso by uniting smaller cells from all over Indonesia, including those based in Medan and Java.
“They were all united through the military training. They got funded from cyber robbery,” said Solahuddin, a journalist who wrote “From NII to JI: Salafi Jihadism in Indonesia”.
Fugitive terrorist Santoso, thought to be the current leader of the Poso movement, was enflamed after police recently arrested members of the Al-Qaeda Indonesia network, including a man arrested in Palu, Sulawesi.
“That led to the kidnapping of police officers and the bombing of a police post, and they now challenge police officers to an open war,” Solahuddin said.
Caught in the crossfire
The security operation has been costly for local residents. Twenty-two people swept up in a sunrise raid in Kayamanya village and released that evening are taking complaints of heavy-handed police techniques to the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas Ham), according to reports.
Residents have also protested the deaths of two local people – militant suspects, according to police – shot dead in the course of the raids.
Ansyaad said one of the biggest problems in combating terrorism in Poso is religious sensitivity and misinterpretation of what is happening.
“Often time, the counterterrorism operation tends to be misinterpreted as repressive to religious activities because the terrorist groups always claim their activities as religious activities,” he said. “The terrorist tends to claim that what they are doing is a religious struggle, which is very easily used to provoke society.”
At the same time, local officials and citizens support counterterrorism efforts in Poso because they are tired of the terrorists’ activities.
“Even the local government is worried that terrorist groups’ activities can trigger the sectarian conflict in Poso. And local communities also have been sick and tired with the terrorist groups’ activities. But they are too afraid to report it to the police,” he said. “However, residents have shown their support to the law enforcement officers to combat the growth of terrorism in Poso.”
Security incidents in Poso, Sulawesi: October 8th – November 8th
Two policemen sent to investigate reports of a terror training camp last seen alive in Tamenjeka village, Poso Pesisir district, Central Sulawesi.
The two are found buried together in a hole with their throats slit, near where they were last seen.
Security forces begin a massive operation to capture the perpetrators, combing the Tamanjeka mountain range, where they believe terrorists are hiding.
A church in Madale, Poso is torched. About four hours later, a pair of bombs explode at a traffic police post in Poso City, the regency’s capital.
Police detonate a home-made bomb found in Tonipa, Poso.
Police find a bomb capable of triggering a “massive” explosion in the yard of a house in Tamanjeka.
Anti-terrorism forces arrest five suspected terrorists in Kalora village, Poso Pesisir Utara district. One man, identified as wanted terror suspect Jipo, is killed in the operation.
Detachment 88 tracks down two more suspected terrorists, identified as MY and K, in Kayamanya village. K is shot dead after he flings explosives at police. MY is arrested. The same day, soldiers discover an apparent militant training camp not far from Tamanjeka.
Police detonate a bomb found behind a home in Landangan, Poso. They say it is similar to explosives found at the militant training site.