Indonesia’s most-wanted terrorist, Santoso, has been shot dead in the jungle of Central Sulawesi province, Indonesian police chief Tito Karnavian has said.
Santoso, who led the East Indonesia Mujahidin (MIT) and had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (ISIS), died in a gunfight Monday in the remote jungle in Poso, along with another MIT member, local media reported.
“For now, it’s a 90% chance that he was Santoso,” Tito, who headed the country’s counterterrorism agency, said on Tuesday. The other dead militant is believed to be Mukhtar, Santoso’s right-hand man, Tito added.
Members of Santoso’s family had arrived in the provincial capital Palu to help with the identification process. Tito called on the 19 remaining members of the MIT, including Santoso’s wife, to surrender.
Santoso, also known as Abu Wardah, took part in the Muslim-Christian conflict that wrecked Poso from 1998 to 2001. He later became the leader of the Poso-based MIT in 2012 and pledged allegiance to ISIS in July 2014.
“Santoso was the symbolic heart of the jihadi movement in Indonesia because he was the only person who could claim to control territory,” says Sidney Jones, a terrorism expert at the Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict. “He had trained probably more than 100 Indonesians but also a few Malaysians, creating a powerful alumni network.”
MIT has also attracted members of the Uighur Muslim minority from China’s Xinjiang province. In September 2014, police arrested four Uighurs who attempted to meet Santoso and join his militant group. Bona Lubis, the senior commander of the joint police-military operation that hunted Santoso and MIT, said in April it had killed five of six Uighur men who were known to have joined MIT.
Despite this, Jones says Santoso’s death would have little impact on the rise of extremist violence in Indonesia “because the danger comes from urban cells; it was never from a ragtag group of insurgents in the jungles of central Sulawesi.”
In January, ISIS claimed responsibility for an attack on Indonesia’ capital Jakarta, which caused eight deaths. And a suicide bomber, with links to ISIS, attacked the Central Java city of Solo earlier this month.