Indonesia Hunts Militant Leaders After Foot Soldiers Arrested

By Fergus Jensen 23 December 2015

JAKARTA — Counterterrorism forces are searching for the leaders of an estimated 1,000 Islamic State sympathizers across Indonesia after a string of raids that led to the arrest of several men suspected of planning bomb attacks, police said on Tuesday.

Nine people were arrested and bomb-making equipment was seized from towns across the island of Java over the weekend, heightening fears of militant attacks by radicalized Indonesians returning from fighting with Islamic State in Syria.

National Police spokesman Anton Charliyan said authorities were aware of plans to attack officials—including President Joko Widodo—government offices and public landmarks.

The weekend sweep, which was reportedly prompted by intelligence shared by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Australian Federal Police, had captured “only subordinates” from a network of Islamic State supporters.

“We are searching for the leaders of this group,” he said, adding that the group was based in Solo, a Central Java city.

“This group has a leadership that is regarded as a representative of ISIS in Indonesia,” he said, using a common acronym for Islamic State.

He said officials believe there are over 1,000 supporters of Islamic State in Indonesia, a nation of more than 250 million. The country is home to the world’s largest Muslim population, the vast majority of whom practice a moderate form of Islam.

Indonesia saw a spate of attacks in the 2000s, the deadliest of which was a nightclub bombing on the holiday island of Bali that killed 202 people, most of them tourists.

Police have been largely successful in destroying domestic militant cells since then, but they now worry that the influence of Islamic State could pitch the country back into violence.