By Ika Inggas and Kate Beddall
The U.S. military killed Indonesian Islamic State leader Bahrun Naim in Syria in June, a Pentagon spokesman told BenarNews on Friday.
The tech-savvy militant was a financier of terror networks in Indonesia and a master recruiter who convinced at least 100 of his countrymen to join the so-called caliphate and groomed women to become suicide bombers, according to Indonesian and U.S. officials and experts.
“We have come to learn U.S. forces killed Bahrun Naim in Syria in June,” Lt. Col. Koné Faulkner, a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Defense, told BenarNews.
Faulkner provided details about the time and place of Naim’s death after Indonesian Defense Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu announced it earlier in the week.
Reports of Naim’s death had circulated in regional media on at least three occasions over the past two years, sourced to online chatter and social media posts, but Indonesian police declined to confirm them, citing lack of proof.
Confirmation of his death came in a letter from U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis, Ryamizard said.
“I … expressed thanks for Mattis’ letter to me informing about the killing of terrorist figures Bahrun Naim and Abu Ghaida some time ago in a U.S. military operation,” said a transcript released by the Indonesian Defense Ministry of Ryamizard’s remarks prepared for delivery to senior Pentagon officials in Washington.
Ryamizard said the information was passed along as a result of intelligence cooperation.
“Once they were shot, Secretary Mattis sent a letter to me two weeks ago, reporting about those two leaders. That’s intelligence cooperation,” he told BenarNews in an interview in Washington on Wednesday.
A day later, Hamidin, an official with Indonesia’s National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT), said that the agency had not received any information about Naim’s death from the United States.
Defense Ministry spokesman Totok Sugiharto said the information had likely been delivered directly to the Indonesian defense minister “because Ryamizard and Mattis are very close.”
Information about the identity of the second man slain, Abu Ghaida, was not immediately available.
‘The bomber should be a woman’
Naim was killed 16 months after the United States Treasury Department declared him a “global terrorist.”
“Naim is a Syria-based Indonesian national and ISIS official who has served in a variety of roles including leading an ISIS unit, recruiting, and overseeing and funding ISIS operations in Indonesia and elsewhere,” the department said in March 2017, using another acronym for IS.
Naim declared his allegiance to the extremist group in August 2014 and had recruited more than 100 of his countrymen by January 2016, the declaration said. He was born in Surakarta, in Central Java province, and would have turned 35 on Sept. 6, according to the Treasury.
The U.S. alleges that he organized and funded a terrorist attack, which killed four civilians and four extremists in central Jakarta on Jan. 14, 2016, transferring nearly U.S. $72,000 to an Indonesian associate. The attack was the first terrorist act claimed by IS in Indonesia.
Naim used the online payment system PayPal and digital currency Bitcoin to transfer terror funding to Indonesia, Kiagus Ahmad Badaruddin, chairman of Indonesia’s Financial Transaction Reports and Analysis Center (PPATK), told a press conference in Jakarta in January 2017.
More recently, Naim began an effort to recruit women as suicide bombers, “because they are less likely to attract suspicion,” according to a report by the Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC).
Among them was Dian Yulia Novi, who was arrested after failing to detonate a rice-cooker bomb during a changing-of-the-guard ceremony outside the Presidential Palace in Jakarta in December 2016. Dian was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison in August 2017.
Shortly after their arrests, she and her husband Nur Solihin gave a chilling television interview, describing a marriage carried out to facilitate an attack they said was being directed from Syria.
“All of it, from the target, the hour, the time, the person who arranged it was Bahrun Naim. I myself didn’t know the details at first … but when the time drew near, he informed me,” Nur Solihin said during a 23-minute interview by TVOne.
“It was Bahrun Naim who said the bomber should be a woman,” he said.
Dian said she was informed by Bahrun Naim via Telegram chat that the target would be guards outside the Presidential Palace. He instructed her to mingle with spectators who typically gather to watch the changing of the guard, then run toward the guards and blow herself up, she said.
At the time Dian Yula Novi was widely described as the first would-be suicide bomber in Indonesia. Suicide bombings have since been carried by Indonesian women who brought their children along for the death mission.
In May 2018, in Indonesia’s second city of Surabaya, a couple and their four children aged 9 to 18 carried out triple suicide bombings at churches in Surabaya, and a family of five detonated bombs at a police station, killing the whole family except an 8-year-old daughter.
“This may be the first time in the world, parents took their children to blow themselves up. These kinds of attacks are unprecedented,” IPAC Director Sidney Jones told BenarNews at the time.