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Abu Wardah Santoso, Indonesia’s most wanted Islamist militant, was killed in a shootout with security forces. Santoso, who was the leader of the East Indonesia Mujahideen militant group which, in 2014, claimed allegiance to ISIS, had eluded capture for more than five years.
According to thestar.com, a mole on the forehead of one of the bodies led the Indonesian police to suspect that it could be Santoso but they waited a day for identification tests to confirm it was indeed the terrorist.
National Police Chief, Tito Karnavian, told reporters that his officers who have had previous encounters with the militant, as well as local residents who knew him, were sure of their succes. “It’s definitely Santoso,” said Central Sulawesi provincial police chief Rudy Sufahriadi, after tests to identify the body were completed.
An Indonesian government senior minister added that the succesful assisination was only one indication of the many efforts in the government’s counterterrorism campaign against extremists operating in the jungles of Sulawesi island.
The hit was no easy task as security forces had used, according to The Guardian, circa 2,500 security personnel, including elite army troops in Poso, a mountainous district of Central Sulawesi province, to try to capture Santoso and his followers.
Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, the minister for security, political and legal affairs, said that Santoso was one of two militants killed in the shootout on Monday. The other was an extremist known as Mochtar, not Santoso’s deputy Basri, as police had initially believed.
News.com.au reports that Santoso lead the East Indonesia Mujahideen militant group.
“The strength of this extremist group will weaken after the death of Santoso,” Pandjaitan said. “We will increase our forces to pressure the rest of the members.”
Security experts questioned the government’s focus on Santoso and the remote Central Sulawesi province, while the activity by ISIS sympathizers was increasing in Java and other parts of Indonesia. In January, according to Homeland Security News Wire, four ISIS followers carried out a suicide bombing and shooting in the capital, Jakarta, killing four other people.
Santoso ran a radical training camp in Poso, where a Muslim-Christian conflict killed at least 1,000 people from 1998 to 2002. He has been linked to a number of deadly attacks against police officers and Christians.
News.com.au notes that Indonesian anti-terror police raided a jihadist training camp in a remote part of Aceh in 2010, killing dozens of suspected militants and arresting more than 100 others. Santoso vowed revenge attacks on a video that he posted via social media and succeeded in killing at least six police officers.