By Ronna Nirmala
Police in Indonesia’s South Sulawesi province on Thursday shot and killed a man allegedly linked to last month’s suicide bombing outside a church in Makassar, a spokesman said.
Officers from the Densus 88 anti-terrorism police unit took the action after the suspect, identified only by his initials, M.T., lunged at them with two sickles during a raid of his home in the provincial capital Makassar, police spokesman E. Zulpan said.
“We wanted to arrest him because we suspected he was involved or had a role in the suicide bombing of the cathedral church,” Zulpan told BenarNews without providing details about the man’s suspected involvement in the attack on Palm Sunday.
The suspect ignored warning shots by police and lunged at them “aggressively,” Zulpan said.
Investigators said that a newlywed couple – Muhammad Lukman Alfarizi and Yogi Sahfitri Fortuna – associated with a local cell of the Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD), a pro-Islamic State (IS) Indonesian militant network, had carried out the suicide bombing that left the two attackers dead and injured 20 people on March 28.
Zulpan said the man slain on Thursday belonged to this cell that was based in the Villa Mutiara housing complex in Makassar, where 18 militant suspects were arrested and two others were killed during a police raid in January.
Meanwhile, national police spokesman Ahmad Ramadhan said officers also arrested one suspect on Wednesday and six others on Tuesday in connection with the Makassar attack.
Ahmad said the suspect arrested on Wednesday, also identified only by his initials, M.Y., was involved in planning the attack.
“He belongs to the same group, the JAD group at Villa Mutiara,” Ahmad told reporters.
Police said the six suspects arrested on Tuesday have ties to Lukman and Sahfitri, but officials did not provide details. The militants had created a WhatsApp group called “the Battalion of Faith,” where members allegedly discussed attack plans, police said.
Police have so far arrested at least 31 people in connection with last month’s attack at Makassar’s Sacred Heart of Jesus Cathedral.
Since the bombing, police have arrested more than 60 suspected militants, including many they said are not linked to the church attack.
JAD in South Sulawesi
The recent arrests would likely weaken JAD in Makassar, said Muh Taufiqurrohman, a senior researcher at the Center for Radicalism and Deradicalization Studies (PAKAR), estimating that the local cell has 60 members.
The researcher said other cells in the province remained largely intact and have contacts in Poso, a regency in Central Sulawesi province, where pro-Islamic State militants belonging to the Eastern Indonesia Mujahideen, or MIT, are active.
“They can still pose a threat to South Sulawesi,” Taufiqurrohman told BenarNews.
“JAD members are committed to fighting the authorities to their death. They prefer to die resisting authorities than to be captured alive.”
The Makassar cell also has contacts in the southern Philippines, Taufiqurrohman said.
Police had earlier said the cell’s members had ties to Rullie Rian Zeke and Ulfah Handayani Saleh, another married couple who carried out a twin suicide bombing at a church in the southern Philippine city of Jolo in 2019.
Another analyst said future attacks by lone wolves – people who are not formally affiliated to any militant groups – were possible.
“They could be autonomous, independent cells without a chain of command or a structure. But the ideology is the same,” Sidney Jones, director of the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict (IPAC), told BenarNews earlier this month.
New cells could be splinters from JAD or other militant groups, Jones added.
Three days after the Makassar suicide bombing, Zakiah Aini, 25, was killed at the national police complex in Jakarta as she brandished a gun in an apparent attempt to attack police.
National police chief Listyo Sigit Prabowo had said Zakiah was a lone wolf with sympathies toward IS.
Meanwhile on Thursday, 34 terrorism convicts at a prison in Bogor, a city south of Jakarta, swore their allegiance to the Indonesian state, said the local office of the Ministry of Law and Human Rights. It said the prisoners were among 56 who are serving sentences at the high-security Gunung Sindur penitentiary.
“This pledge of allegiance is the result of the deradicalization program,” the ministry said in a statement, referring to a government program.