The Leaderboard: Abu Wardah Santoso

The Leaderboard profiles the people behind the policies of the Asia-Pacific.Who is he?

Abu Wardah Santoso is the leader of the East Indonesia Mujahideen, or MIT, a terrorist group based near Poso in the Indonesian province of Central Sulawesi. Santoso has pledged his organization’s support for the Islamic State. Santoso’s group has successfully produced homemade bombs and launched several lethal attacks against the local police.

Why is he in the news?

The Indonesian government has tasked an elite counterterrorism task force, known as Special Detachment 88 or Densus 88, with assisting the local police in eradicating Santoso’s organization. MIT has been the target of several police and military raids in recent months. In May, a combined force of nearly 1,000 police officers combed the hilly jungle areas where MIT was believed to be hiding in search of its militants.

Indonesian authorities in September 2014 arrested four men in Poso believed to be ethnic Uighurs from China who had traveled to Indonesia on fake Turkish passports and attempted to make contact with Santoso.

What to expect?

Despite repeated large-scale attempts by police to flush Santoso out of hiding, he has proved elusive. Under pressure from President Joko Widodo, multiple special police units have been deployed to the Poso area to assist in the search for Santoso and the MIT. Meanwhile, the Indonesian military, seeking to put its own counterterrorism units to use, has scaled up its operations in Central Sulawesi and stationed a quick reaction battalion at its provincial command that would be ready to launch operations in Poso if required.

Expect the hunt for Santoso to be marred with institutional competition between the police and military. The police has so far refused to make use of the military’s jungle warfare expertise, which is much needed in the search, while the military has at times overstepped its mandate in conducting internal security operations.

Thumbnail image of Densus 88 SWAT squad. Source: Wikimedia, used under a creative commons license.


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