INDONESIA

Islamic State suspects are Chinese Uygurs

Four arrested in Indonesia were trying to meet country's most wanted extremist amid fears group may have links to militants in Syria and Iraq

PUBLISHED : Monday, 15 September, 2014, 2:46pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 16 September, 2014, 9:45am

Four suspected Islamic militants arrested in Indonesia over the weekend are members of China's ethnic Uygur minority community and were trying to meet Indonesia's most wanted extremist, authorities said yesterday.

Police said they were investigating whether the four had links to the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq.

Dozens of Indonesians have travelled to the Middle East to join the group and other militant outfits over the last year. Indonesian authorities, who have struggled against violent extremists for years, have woken up to the emerging threat in recent months. They have outlawed Islamic State but have no laws to stop suspected militants from travelling abroad.

The four Uygurs were arrested on Saturday in Central Sulawesi province, a major hotbed of militancy in the country.

National police spokesman Colonel Agus Rianto said the four were arrested with three associates of Abu Wardah Santoso, a fugitive militant leader alleged to be behind the murder of several policemen and Indonesia's most wanted terrorist suspect.

Rianto said police found stickers with the Islamic State symbol on them in the car the men were travelling in when they were arrested.

Authorities initially thought the four Uygurs were from Turkey, which has linguistic and ethnic ties with the Uygur homeland of Xinjiang in northwestern China.

The men are suspected of having travelled from Turkey to Cambodia by sea and then overland to Thailand, where they secured fake passports. They then travelled by plane to Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia before heading to Indonesia.

If the men were proven to have links to Islamic State, it would be "an ominous new development in the terrorist picture in Indonesia", said Keith Loveard, head of risk analysis at Jakarta-based security company Concord Consulting.

"Terrorist elements have been able to exist in the area because of strong community support for hard-line beliefs and the correctness of sharia principles."

Unrest by Uygur separatists has risen in Xinjiang and beyond, prompting President Xi Jinping to order a crackdown earlier this year.

China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Beijing was seeking more information about the case. "We need to know about it further," he told reporters in Beijing when asked about the arrests.

The arrests came as Indonesia tightens passport issuance for trips to the Middle East and is monitoring its citizens in Syria for Islamic State connections, Djoko Suyanto, the minister for law and human rights, said. As many as 200 Indonesians travelled to Syria to fight with the Islamic militant group, according to a report released last month by New York- based Soufan Group.

Sixty-six Indonesians have travelled to Iraq and Syria to fight and four have died there. The government is increasing monitoring of areas prone to radical movements, including Poso, Ambon in the Maluku islands, and eastern and central Java, Suyanto said.

Poso is home to the Mujahideen Indonesia Timor, a group led by Santoso. It is the heartland of Indonesia's home-grown attempts to create an area where sharia, or Islamic law, prevails, and could be considered to have become part of the emerging "caliphate" claimed by Islamic State.

Associated Press, Bloomberg