JAKARTA: Twenty-two suspects arrested in recent weeks were connected to the banned Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) militant group, Indonesian authorities said on Thursday (Mar 18).
One of the 22 had been convicted a decade ago for harbouring a terrorist and plotting an attack against police.
Under the guard of Densus 88, Indonesia’s elite counterterrorism squad, the suspects were flown from Surabaya to Jakarta on Thursday for further questioning at a police detention centre.
TV footage showed them being led off the plane, their hands and legs cuffed and their faces masked.
Police arrested 12 suspects in East Java province late last month and another 10 earlier this month. Authorities also seized a pistol, knives, swords, machetes and jihadist books, said Rusdi Hartono, the National Police spokesperson.
He said the suspects conducted military-style training in East Java’s Malang district and plotted to attack police officers.
Hartono previously said the suspects had created a bunker for weapons and bomb-making and prepared a route to escape after carrying out their planned attacks.
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Among the suspects transferred to Jakarta on Thursday was Usman Sef, also known as Fahim.
Fahim was a veteran fighter in Afghanistan who was sentenced to three-and-a-half years' jail in 2005 for harbouring Malaysian terror fugitive Noordin Top and for plotting an attack against police, said Aswin Siregar, Densus 88's operations chief.
“In the current operation, Fahim had established a training ground with a programme to create a jihadist group to fight in Medina for next year,” Siregar told a news conference, referring to the holy city in Saudi Arabia. He did not elaborate on what the group was planning there.
“We will continue to hunt them down, there will be no place for JI in Indonesia,” Siregar said.
East Java vice police chief Slamet Hadi Suprapto told reporters in Surabaya that the JI cell led by Fahim had recruited at least 50 new members in the province in the past five years.
The arrests came almost three months after authorities arrested 22 alleged JI members in Lampung province on Sumatra island, including JI's suspected military leader, Zulkarnaen, who had been wanted for more than 18 years.
Zulkarnaen was arrested in early December has also been transferred to Jakarta for further investigations.
The al Qaida-linked JI are behind a string of past bombings in Indonesia, including the 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202 people, mostly foreign tourists.
The group was banned by a court in 2008 and has been weakened by a sustained crackdown on militants by Indonesia’s counterterrorism police with American and Australian support.