By Rina Chadijah and Ronna Nirmala
Indonesia’s counterterrorism chief said Monday that the appearance of an Indonesian identity card in a video purportedly showing a Houthi raid on an Islamic militants’ stronghold in Yemen indicated that Indonesian fighters may have relocated to Yemen from Syria.
Footage showing the ID card and Indonesian banknotes went viral on social media after being posted on Twitter on Saturday by Faran Jeffery, deputy director of the U.K.-based counter-terrorism think-tank Islamic Theology of Counter Terrorism.
“The video on the discovery of the rupiah notes and the Indonesian ID card shows that Indonesian FTFs [foreign terrorist fighters] move between war zones,” National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT) chief Boy Rafli Amar said in a written statement on Monday.
The ID card in the name of Syamsul Hadi Anwar of Mojokerto, Central Java was found at an al-Qaeda or Islamic State stronghold in Yemen’s al-Bayda province, according to Jeffery, who shared videos via his Twitter account @Natsecjeff.
The footage came from an “official Houthi media” account on Telegram and was likely shot in recent weeks, Jeffery told BenarNews in a message.
Houthi rebels are Shia Muslim insurgents backed by Iran who have been waging war against the government in Yemen, which has the support of Saudi Arabia. The conflict has raged since 2015, creating chaos and an acute humanitarian crisis.
The United States has also conducted air strikes in Yemen targeting Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and militants affiliated with the self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS), according to the Council on Foreign Relations, a U.S. think-tank.
According to Boy, the video might have been of a Houthi attack on al-Qaeda and IS in mid-August in the Bayda area.
Footage of fighters going through belongings in the captured camp shows Indonesian rupiah notes in denominations of 10,000, 5,000 and 2,000, as well as the ID card.
“The emergence of ISIS in the region cannot be separated from the protracted civil war in Yemen. The defeat of ISIS in Syria and Iraq has caused a number of fighters to relocate,” he said, using another acronym for the so-called Islamic State group.
Boy also said that lax border security had allowed militants to travel from Syria to Yemen.
The BNPT did not immediately respond when asked what further actions it was taking to trace, verify or repatriate Indonesian fighters in Yemen.
Syamsul Hadi, alias Abu Hatim Al Sundawy Al Indonesy, was a follower of “an important figure in Syria” known as Ibn Mas’ud, according to Boy.
But officials in Mojokerto regency in Central Java said that Syamsul Hadi Anwar’s ID card appeared to be fake, as the address listed on the ID card was a long-vacant house, and the name and number were not in the regency’s population database.
The head of the regency’s Civil Registry Department, Bambang Wahyuadi, told Detik.com that the ID card was an old version without an electronic chip.
Between 400 and 600 Indonesians foreign terrorism fighters and their dependents are still overseas, according Indonesian authorities, who base that number on data from foreign intelligence agencies and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).
Most of them are believed to be languishing in three camps in Syria, guarded by different authorities.
In February, the Indonesian government in February 2020 announced that it would not repatriate its citizens who had joined IS overseas.
On the run in Mindanao
Meanwhile, the Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Monday it had been informed that two Indonesians were wanted by security forces in the southern Philippines for alleged involvement in suicide bombings on the southern island of Jolo, including one that killed 15 people and injured dozens of others last week.
On Saturday, Philippine security forces launched a major operation to hunt down Indonesians Andi Baso and Reski Fantasya (alias Cici) and said they could have fled from Jolo to Zamboanga City after suicide attacks by two women belonging to pro-IS group Abu Sayyaf last week.
They allegedly fled with Mundi Sawadjaan, the nephew of Abu Sayyaf commander Hatib Hajan Sawadjaan, who heads the IS branch in the Philippines.
“The Indonesian Embassy in Manila has been informed of the above developments,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Teuku Faizasyah told BenarNews on Monday.
By Monday, however, the commander of the Philippine military’s Western Mindanao Command based in Zamboanga, Maj. Gen. Corleto Vinluan Jr., said the younger Sawadjaan and the two Indonesians were still on Jolo Island, which is part of Sulu province – long a hotbed of Muslim militancy.
The south has long, unguarded and often porous borders, which have allowed militants to move from one site to another undetected.
In Jakarta, National Police spokesman Awi Setiyono said Andi was a fugitive in Indonesia for his alleged involvement in a bomb attack at the Oikumene Church in Samarinda, East Kalimantan province in 2016.
“We are still hunting and coordinating with the Philippine police, exchanging information about the fugitive,” Awi told BenarNews.
Andi was part of the IS-affiliated Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD) militant network in Makassar, South Sulawesi, Awi said.
Meanwhile Reski (Cici) is the daughter of Rullie Rian Zeke and Ulfah Handayani Saleh, who allegedly carried out suicide bombings at the Our Lady of Mount Carmel Cathedral in Jolo on Jan. 27, 2019.
Reski and her parents left Indonesia to join IS in the Middle East, but were caught by Turkish authorities in January 2017 and deported to Indonesia six months later.
“After returning to Indonesia, some of them illegally entered the southern Philippines and carried out acts of terror such as the suicide bombing at the Jolo Cathedral,” Awi told BenarNews, referring to Rullie and Ulfah.
‘He kept moving’
Sidney Jones, director of the Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC), said Andi fled to Sabah, Malaysia, via Nunukan, North Kalimantan, after the bomb attack in Samarinda.
“He got a job in Sabah as a worker in an oil palm plantation, but an illegal one,” Jones told BenarNews on Monday.
While in Sabah, Andi established a new militant cell and succeeded in radicalizing several other migrant workers. He also met Rullie and his family. Andi helped Rullie travel to Mindanao in May 2018, and later escorted Rullie’s wife and daughter to the Philippines in October.
According to a wanted notice released by Philippines security forces at the weekend, Andi and Reski are married and are “bomb experts.”
Andi stayed in Mindanao starting in January 2019, and became active with IS-linked groups there, according to IPAC research.
“Andi does not have a permanent group in the Philippines. He kept moving, having joined Daulah Islamiyah Baqiyah and then the Sawadjaan group,” Jones said.