Alleged members of an Islamic militant group shot a police officer to death in eastern Indonesia in the latest assault targeting security officials in the world’s most populous Muslim country, police said Saturday.
Five gunmen ambushed and took hostage villagers and police officers who had just returned from Friday prayers at a small mosque near a police post in Central Sulawesi province’s Salubanga village, said National Police spokesman Argo Yuwono.
He said the hostages managed to escape when the gunmen, believed to be members of the East Indonesia Mujahideen militant group, sneaked into the mosque’s yard and opened fire at the officers and villagers, killing a police officer, and fled to a nearby forested area in Parigi Moutong district.
The attack occurred amid security operations that had been intensified in the past months in Poso, a neighboring mountainous district considered an extremist hotbed, to try to capture the rest of the group’s members. The group still has some nine members after more than 30 were captured or killed in the past year. The group’s leader, Abu Wardah Santoso, was killed in a shootout with security forces in 2016.
Yuwono said that although the strength of the extremist group was weakened after the death of Santoso, it remains dangerous under its current leader, Ali Kalora.
Also on Saturday, Indonesian police said that they had arrested seven suspected Islamic militants in the country’s easternmost Papua province as authorities beef up security ahead of Christmas and New Year’s celebrations.
Papua police’s deputy chief, Yakobus Marjuki, said the elite counterterrorism squad arrested a man, identified only as Karwanto, in a raid at a house in Sentani town in December 5 after receiving a tip from intelligence that some members of the extremist group have fled to Papua from other Indonesian islands since last year.
His arrest led police to six other suspects who were captured in the past week in Jayapura, the capital of Papua province. Police seized knives, laptops, explosive materials and a bomb from three houses rented by the suspects.
Marjuki declined to say what the suspects had planned in predominantly Christian Papua province. He said those arrested are suspected members of a local affiliate of the Islamic State group known as Jama’ah Anshorut Daulah, or JAD, from Lampung and Medan on Sumatra island.
JAD has been implicated in numerous attacks in Indonesia over the past two years and was designated a terror organization by the U.S. in 2017.
The arrests come as authorities announced Friday the launch of an annual security operation to secure the year-end festivities. For the operation, which will run through January 1, Indonesia’s police and military will deploy a total of 190,000 officers across the country. They will be tasked with securing churches, shopping malls, tourist destinations, airports, and other places where crowds are expected to gather in large numbers.
Arrests of suspected Islamic militants are rare in Papua, a former Dutch colony in the western part of New Guinea that is ethnically and culturally distinct from much of Indonesia. It was incorporated into Indonesia in 1969 after a U.N.-sponsored ballot that was seen as a sham by many.
Indonesia, which is home to some 230 million Muslims, has carried out a sustained crackdown on Islamic militants since bombings on the tourist island of Bali in 2002 killed 202 people, mostly foreigners.
The Jemaah Islamiyah military network, which was blamed for the Bali attacks, was neutralized following the arrests of hundreds of its militants and leaders. But new threats have emerged in recent times from Islamic State group-inspired radicals who have targeted security forces and local “infidels” instead of Westerners.
By Niniek Karmini for The Associated Press.