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Humanitarian workers and rights activists Join to underline need for humane treatment of prisoners in Indonesia

Security forces killed 14 MIT members, including six ethnic Uyghurs, in 2016; Seven were killed in 2015, and another 31 captured

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Human Trafficking (Representational Image. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Palu, September 03, 2016: Indonesia has all but decimated the Eastern Indonesia Mujahideen (MIT), a band of militants once considered the nation’s most deadly domestic terror group.

But in the waning months of a massive security operation in Central Sulawesi where the MIT is based, humanitarian workers and rights activists are joining efforts to persuade 14 people still hiding in the jungles of Poso Regency to turn themselves in.

National Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM) chief Imdadun Rahmat traveled to the provincial capital of Palu this week to underline the need for humane treatment of prisoners.

“We continue to support and encourage the government initiative to restore the losses suffered by the community following the conflict in Poso, and urge good treatment of those prisoners who were captured alive,” Imdadun told reporters here Wednesday.

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“The main point is, no more blood in Poso. We are taking these steps together, prioritising a persuasive approach,” Central Sulawesi police chief Brig. Gen. Rudy Sufahriadi said as he repeated appeals for the remaining militants to give up.

Officials have approached relatives of remaining MIT members to assure them that those who surrender will not be deprived of their rights, he said.

“Certainly we will treat them well, whether they are captured or surrender during the operation,” Rudy said.

MIT holdouts include women

Estimated to have about 32 members in early 2016, the MIT is now less than half that size, officials said. Holdouts include two of the group’s leaders, Basri (alias Bagong) and Ali Kalora, and their wives.

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Hundreds of security personnel have been on the ground in remote Poso regency since January 2015 in two operations code-named Camar Maleo and Tinombala.

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Security forces killed 14 MIT members, including six ethnic Uyghurs, in 2016. Seven were killed in 2015, and another 31 captured.

In July of this year, Indonesia confirmed that its most wanted militant – MIT leader Santoso – had been shot dead.

Santoso, who had pledged allegiance to the extremist group Islamic State (IS), died in a shootout with security forces in Poso on July 18, police said.

Officials vowed to prolong a security operation aimed at capturing or killing the remnants of the MIT. That operation is scheduled to continue for two more months.

Local police and rights activists say they have received intelligence that the holdouts are willing to surrender, but they are afraid to do so.

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Therapy

After capture or surrender, MIT members will be put in de-radicalization programs, National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT) chief Suhardi Alius said in Palu on Wednesday.

Community members will be involved in this process, not just religious scholars and government officials, he added.

He described it as an intensive program designed “so that it can really provide therapy for those who have been exposed to radicalization.”

Several other activists and public figures have come to the region to join the efforts and assist local communities traumatized by years of violence.

The group includes members of the medical charity Medical Emergency Rescue Committee (Mer-C). Team 13, as it has been dubbed, is already in Poso but unwilling to talk to the press.

Trapped

Over the past two years, rights activists from the Central Sulawesi Institute for Legal Studies and Human Rights Advocacy (LPS-HAM Sulteng) often protested when security forces killed suspected militants instead of capturing them alive.

They also criticized security forces for failing to capture Santoso and the two other MIT leaders over 18 months.

After Santoso was killed, the chief of LPS-HAM Sulteng, Mohd Affandi, called for a halt to security sweeps.

“If the military operation stops, Team 13 can freely move on the field. Unfortunately the operation is still in progress, so the team will automatically get trouble,” Affandi told BenarNews.

Locals in the impoverished area have been trapped between armed militants and security forces.

“Farmers did not go to work because of they were worried if there is a clash between armed civilian groups and security forces,” Celebes Institute Director Adriany Badrah once said.

In September 2015, three farmers were decapitated in Central Sulawesi’s Parigi Moutong regency. Officials said Santoso’s group was likely behind the killings and urged farmers to suspend agricultural activities for the time being.

Prior to the rise of IS and its spread in the archipelago, MIT was seen as the most dangerous terror group on Indonesian soil, a remnant of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), the network that carried out the 2002 and 2005 Bali bombings.

Hundreds of Indonesians have gone to Iraq and Syria to join IS, and an IS-claimed attack in Jakarta in Jan. 2015 left eight dead. (Benar News)

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After 9/11, America Still In A Never-Ending War To Ensure Safety

For the past 18 years, there is one question that has rarely strayed for long from the minds of a majority of people living in the US: Are we safe?

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Covered in dust, ash and falling debris on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, New York City Transit's express coach #2185 could have been written off and sent off to scrap. It was decided, however, to rebuild her as a symbol of NYC Transit’s resiliency and a rolling example of the dedication of the agency’s employees. Wikimedia Commons

For the past 18 years, there is one question that has rarely strayed for long from the minds of a majority of people living in the US: Are we safe?  Question of safety was etched into the American psyche following the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, when terrorists flew two planes into New York’s World Trade Center and another into the Pentagon, while a fourth crashed in a field in Pennsylvania.

“I looked out the window and I could see a mountain of concrete and steel just falling past the window, almost like in slow motion, like a curtain going down at a theater,” said Frank Razzano, who witnessed the collapse of the World Trade Center’s South Tower from his New York hotel room.

“I ran to the opposite side of the room and pressed myself against the wall and thought that those were the last few minutes that I was going to have on Earth,” he told VOA in 2013.

Since that day, the need to keep the U.S. safe from attack has been a constant for Americans, no matter their personal politics.

empire, state, building, us, 9/11, terrorism, safety
U.S. Department of Homeland Security election security workers monitor screens in Arlington, Virginia, Nov. 6, 2018. VOA

Top priority: protection from terrorism

According to a Pew Research Center survey, from 2002 through 2018, at least 7 in 10 U.S. adults said protecting the country from terrorism should be a top priority for both the president and lawmakers.

Eighteen years after the 9/11 attacks, the officials responsible for keeping the country safe say progress has been made.

“If you were to step back and think where we were … we are so much better off than we were on 9/12,” Frank Cilluffo, who worked in what was initially known as the Office of Homeland Security, told VOA.

“I think, by and large, the career civil servants and I think the 22 legacy agencies have recalibrated quite well to it to meet today’s demands and threats,” said Cilluffo, who now heads Auburn University’s McCrary Institute for Cyber and Critical Infrastructure Security.

But Cilluffo and other veteran officials called upon to make sure the U.S. would not again fall victim to a 9/11-type attack admit getting there was not easy.

empire, state, building, us, 9/11, terrorism, safety
Empire State Building, NYC. Wikimedia Commons

One of the first steps was to create the Department of Homeland Security, which brought together key agencies such as the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Secret Service.

It was the first step in an effort to correct what some experts and lawmakers had identified as a key weakness that allowed the 19 terrorists behind the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to succeed — a failure of government agencies, some of which had vital bits of information about the plot, to communicate critical information and connect the dots.

Still, it wasn’t enough.

Determining mission

“Even then there was a challenge associated with trying to figure out what our mission profile really needed to be and the priorities within that mission profile,” said retired Admiral James Loy, who served as the new department’s first deputy secretary. “What was the business of this new department and how were we going to set about pulling it off?”

They settled on five words: awareness, prevention, protection, response and recovery.

“Those five words became the license, if you will, for all of us to continue doing what we were doing and begin the process of trying to do other things collaboratively that had never been done perhaps by this particular gathering,” Loy recalled at a gathering of former DHS deputy secretaries Wednesday.

There were also adjustments that had to be made by the many officials who came to DHS either from the military or the intelligence community.

“I found out that everything I thought I knew about the role of the federal government in dealing with security was wrong,” said Jane Holl Lute, who served as a DHS deputy secretary under U.S. President Barack Obama.

“Your relationship between the public, government and fear is very different,” she said.

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The 9/11 attacks. Wikimedia Commons

Instead of concentrating on carefully gathered information from well-placed spies or sources, DHS had to learn to partner with civilians.

“The men and women of this country know an enormous amount about what’s happening,” Lute said. “We actually found out that streetcar vendors in Times Square in New York have pretty valuable information.”

Lute and other former and current officials are confident that the government has been able to find ways to reach out to civilians and even to private businesses.

Still, as the threats have evolved to include disinformation campaigns and cyber attacks, they say more will need to be done.

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‘Woefully inadequate’

Some officials also see shortcomings despite yearly budgets that have more than doubled since Congress set aside $19.5 billion for Homeland Security in 2002.

“If you look at the infrastructure of the department, it is woefully inadequate,” said Paul Schneider, another former deputy secretary. He added that so much money is tied up in mandatory programs, such as disaster relief, that there is little left to make needed improvements.

“There’s CBP [Customs and Border Patrol] Border Patrol stations that look like, you know, a 1950s cowboy movie of the Pony Express,” he said.

But one of the biggest challenges for homeland security officials may be overcoming the language that so many in the U.S. have come to associate with the department — the war on terror.

“Our war on terror begins with al-Qaida, but it does not end there,” former President George W. Bush told a joint session of Congress nine days after the 2001 attacks. “It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated.”

It was a powerful message in the wake of tragedy. But former officials, like Cilluffo, admit it is a war that can never really be won.

“The reality is there’s never an end state,” Cilluffo said. “It’s something that we have to continually adapt, continually prioritize and continually get the job done.” (VOA)