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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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Here’s Everything you Need to Know About the Increasing Islamic State Terror Activity in Syria

Surge of IS Violence and Terrorism Seen in Syria

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Smoke Syria
Smoke rises while people gather at a damaged site after two bomb blasts claimed by Islamic State hit the northeastern Syrian city of Qamishli near the Turkish border, Syria. VOA

By Sirwan Kajjo

Islamic State militants have increased their terror activity in recent weeks in Syria, carrying out deadly attacks against Syrian regime troops and U.S.-backed forces.

Since early December, the terror group has conducted at least three major attacks on Syrian government forces and their allied militias in the eastern province of Deir el-Zour, local sources said.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitor that has reporters across the country, recent attacks claimed by IS against Syrian military forces have killed at least 30 soldiers and wounded more than 50 others.

Last week, at least three fighters with the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces were killed in what local military officials described as a suicide attack carried out by IS militants in the province of Raqqa, IS’s former de facto capital before it was freed in 2017 by the SDF and its U.S.-led allies.

Islamic State Syria
Islamic State militants clean their weapons in Deir el-Zour city, Syria. VOA

‘Threat to our forces’ 

IS “terrorists still pose a threat to our forces, especially in the eastern part of Syria,” an SDF commander told VOA.

“They have been able to regroup and reorganize in some remote parts of Deir el-Zour, where there is a smaller presence of our forces or any other forces,” said the commander, who requested anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak to journalists.

He added that despite the declaration of the physical defeat of the terror group in March 2019, IS “still has hundreds of sleeper cells that have the capability to wage deadly attacks on civilians and combatants alike.”

In the town of Tabqa, in western Raqqa, local news reports this week said a suspected IS sleeper cell assaulted a family, killing three of its members, including a child. The reports did not say why the family was attacked, but IS has in the past targeted people whom it suspected of having ties to or working for the government or U.S.-backed local forces.

While most of the recent activity has been in areas IS once controlled as part of its so-called caliphate, the militant group has been particularly active in Syria’s vast desert region.

The Syrian Observatory reported at least 10 IS-claimed attacks in December that originated from the mostly desert eastern part of Homs province in central Syria.

Baghdadi’s death

Islamic State Syria
The Islamic State group’s leader extolled militants in Sri Lanka for “striking the homes of the crusaders in their Easter, in vengeance for their brothers in Baghouz,” a reference to IS’ last bastion in eastern Syria, which was captured by U.S.-backed fighters. VOA

Despite the death of its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in October in a U.S. operation in northwestern Syria, IS still represents a major threat in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere, experts say.

“As ISIS returns to its original decentralized structure, members of the group are trying to show ISIS still poses a threat, even after the defeat of its caliphate and the recent death of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi,” said Kaleigh Thomas, a Middle East researcher at the Center for a New American Security in Washington, using another acronym for IS.

Sadradeen Kinno, a Syrian researcher who closely follows Islamist militancy, echoed Thomas’ views.

“IS is now living a period of stability, so to speak. After the death of Baghdadi, their objective is clearer now. They try to stay focused on carrying out assassinations, ambushes and suicide attacks, and they have been successful at that,” he told VOA.

Kinno said IS “really believes in a recurrent cycle of violence, so for them the territorial defeat they experienced this year is just a phase of their ongoing jihad.”

US withdrawal 

U.S. vehicles Syria
A convoy of U.S. vehicles is seen after withdrawing from northern Syria, on the outskirts of Dohuk, Iraq. VOA

U.S. President Donald Trump in October announced a withdrawal of troops from Syria, which was followed by a Turkish military offensive against U.S.-backed SDF fighters in northeast Syria.

Some experts say the U.S. troop pullout allowed IS to regroup, and thus its terror attacks have increased.

“The U.S. decision sent a signal to [IS] that the U.S. is not interested in a long-term presence in Syria,” said Azad Othman, a Syrian affairs analyst based in Irbil, Iraq.

IS “now feels that its low-level insurgency in Syria could be even more effective as long as the Americans don’t have a significant military presence in the country,” he told VOA.

The Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency said in a report in November that “ISIS has exploited the Turkish incursion and subsequent drawdown of U.S. troops from northeastern Syria to reconstitute its capabilities and resources both within Syria in the short term and globally in the longer term.”

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“The withdrawal and redeployment of U.S. troops has also affected the fight against ISIS, which remains a threat in the region and globally,” Glenn Fine, the principal deputy inspector general, said in the report.

But the U.S. has decided to keep about 500 troops to secure oil fields in Syria to prevent IS militants and the Syrian regime forces from accessing them. (VOA)