JAKARTA — Indonesian security forces have killed two ethnic Uighur Chinese belonging to a militant network led by the country’s most wanted man, police said on Wednesday.
Indonesia has launched an aggressive, military-backed security campaign in the jungles of Sulawesi island as it battles the threat from growing domestic support for the Islamic State militant group.
Police said the men, part of China’s Uighur Muslim minority, had joined Santoso, a militant in Poso in central Sulawesi, who is Indonesia’s most high-profile backer of Islamic State, and has been on the run for more than three years.
Tuesday’s shootout followed a challenge by security forces to a group of unknown men to identify themselves, during an operation to comb through a forested area of Poso, which is more than 1,600 km (994 miles) northeast of Jakarta, the capital.
“Based on testimony from another suspect we had arrested, those two were identified as Uighurs,” said Central Sulawesi police spokesman Hari Suprapto, adding that authorities had notified the Chinese Embassy in Jakarta.
A Chinese Embassy press official told Reuters no information had yet been received on the deaths, however.
Four other Uighur men were jailed last year for attempting to join the same militant network, whose leader authorities say they have cornered, after a hunt that lasted more than a year and involved hundreds of troops.
“We have been successful in surrounding them. Their supplies have started to dwindle,” the chief security minister, Luhut Pandjaitan, told reporters last week. “We hope Santoso will surrender, but we are prepared for the worst-case scenario.”
Asked for an expected timeframe, he gave no details.
Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Uighurs keen to escape unrest in their far western Chinese homeland of Xinjiang have travelled clandestinely via Southeast Asia to Turkey.
China says they often end up crossing into Syria and Iraq to fight for Islamic State militants.
Hundreds of people have been killed over the past few years in resource-rich Xinjiang, strategically located on the borders of central Asia, in violence between Uighurs and ethnic majority Han Chinese.
Beijing has blamed the unrest on Islamist militants, though rights groups and exiles say anger at Chinese controls on the religion and culture of the Uighurs is more to blame. China denies any repression in Xinjiang.