Most wanted terrorist Santoso wants to realize his 'old dream'
The Jakarta Post
The National Police and Indonesian Military (TNI) have sent thousands of elite troops to Poso, Central Sulawesi, in a mission to catch the East Indonesia Mujahiddin (MIT) militant group and its leader Santoso, who has reportedly pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (IS) terrorist network.
Santoso, aka Abu Wardah, is suspected of being behind the group's activities in a series of attacks that have killed both TNI and police personnel, as well as civilians affiliated to them.
Even an in-law of Daeng Koro, an MIT leader and one of Santoso's allies, was beheaded in Malino village, North Morowali, Central Sulawesi, after being accused of leaking crucial information to the police's elite Densus 88 counterterrorism squad in 2015.
Many have wondered about the identity and background of Santoso. How does a former religious book seller turn into the nation's most wanted terrorist fugitive? How did he link up with IS?
On Jan. 27, The Jakarta Post had an exclusive interview with Andi Baso Tahir, aka Ateng, an old friend of Santoso in Tokorondo village, a coastal town in Poso.
Question: You are known as one of Santoso's friends. How did you first meet him?
Answer: We weren't just friends. Even though I don't know where he comes from, our relationship was more like that of brothers. We ate together at my house and he often slept at my house. We helped each other.
I first met Santoso in 2001 when we participated in military training together. We both also participated in amaliyah [jihad during inter-religious conflict between Christians and Muslims in Poso from 1998 to 2001]. We were together until 2003, but we haven't seen each other since.
Who led the military training at the time?
The one who fueled our passion for jihad was Ustadz Abu [Jamaah Islamiyah leader Abu Bakar Ba'asyir] through recordings of his preaching. By then, Ali Fauzi [young brother of Muchlas, one of the 2002 Bali bombers] had also come to Poso. Fathurrahman Al-Ghozi [bomb-maker of Jamaah Islamiyah] from Malaysia also came to join us.
Who is Fathurrahman Al-Ghozi?
I don't really know who he was. All I know is he came from Malaysia to build the headquarters of Waqalah Uhud Mantiqi III [local wing of Jamaah Islamiyah in Sulawesi-Maluku region] in Poso. He needed land to establish both the building and plantation to fund activities. So we took him with us to Mount Biru, Tamanjeka [in Poso], we walked eight hours to reach it. There was an old Dutch building, where the headquarters was to be built. The area was about 10 hectares in total.
Was the headquarters finally built?
You could say no, but you could also say yes because the police named Mt. Biru Santoso's military training camp. However, the construction was canceled because Jamaah Islamiyah had been wiped out in Malaysia. Fathurrahman was probably hit in the Philippines too. Thereafter, there was no news about the construction of the headquarters of Waqalah Uhud Mantiqi III.
Did Fathurrahman and Ali Fauzi lead the training?
They never led the military training as they came only to give sermons. They came as Jundullah Troops. They did not mention whether Ustadz Abu Bakar Ba'asyir had told them to come to Poso, but they recommended we listen to his preaching and we later referred to him as Ustadz Abu.
What did the preaching tell you?
It told us about the massacre of Muslim communities in Chechnya [Russia] and Palestine, as well as about passionate jihad activities. When we listened to his preaching, our passion for jihad grew stronger.
So you joined the Jundullah?
No, I did not join the Jundullah. I joined the Kompak Troops. At the time, there was the Wahdah Troops, the members of which mostly came from Palopo, South Sulawesi, and the Hidayatullah Troops. But the coordinator was in Tanah Runtuh, Poso city.
Returning to Santoso, you said the last time you met Santoso was in 2003. Where did he go after that?
I don't know. I asked friends for information, but they didn't know where he was. I also visited his house in Kalora village, but I couldn't find him. I didn't know where he was until 2006, when I heard that Santoso had been arrested for robbing a boxcar in a coastal town of Poso. He was jailed for a year.
Did Santoso start hiding in the forest after he left prison?
No, not then because I met him after he was released. I asked him to stop his amaliyah activities; that he should preach to disenchanted people in Poso. Santoso listened to my suggestion and really stopped his amaliyah activities. He then became a peddler, selling cleavers, cooking utensils and clothes. After a day of traveling around the village to sell his products, he would usually drop by my house to talk and then he'd go home. But after that he disappeared and I haven't heard from him since.
Did you try to find his whereabouts?
A: I've tried dozens of times. I went to his house, but I could not find him. I asked Suriani [Santoso's wife], but she told me she didn't know where he was. I checked with friends, some of whom said Santoso had bid them farewell to depart for Moro, the Philippines. One friend said Santoso did not dare say goodbye to me as he was afraid I would try to stop him from going. I also heard that Santoso traveled around Java, but I don't know where to exactly. It wasn't until I heard that the police had announced they were targeting Santoso in an operation because he was involved in the shooting of a police officer in a Bank BCA security post in Palu in 2011.
Since the police named him the target of a manhunt in 2011, has Santoso ever returned to Poso?
Yes, he was hiding in Poso. When there was a daurah [koran reading] in Masani village, a coastal town of Poso, in 2012, Santoso suddenly turned up. He also gave materials on askari (troop). He asked others to participate in amaliyah with him. There was a disagreement, with followers from Tokorondo village in the daurah who protested against Santoso providing materials. That was when the misunderstanding happened, with Santoso being banished by daurah followers.
Where did Santoso go after he was banished?
I think he went to Tamanjeka [Mt. Biru] where he met Bado, alias Urwah. Bado then introduced him to Haji Sabri, the owner of a swallow's nest structure and a sawmill and cacao buyer of Tamanjeka. After the introduction, Santoso started living near the swallow structure. Bado, who was a former employee of Haji Sabri at the sawmill, then joined Santoso. Both were involved in the killing of two police officers in Tamanjeka. Bado was killed during a shootout with officers on Aug. 19, 2015, on Mt. Langka on the north coast of Poso. Haji Sabri, who had not known that Santoso was wanted by the police, became afraid and left Tamanjeka to live in Poso city.
Why did Tamanjeka residents accept Santoso?
Tamanjeka residents are far from the city. They don't have good religious understanding, and so when Santoso came and led koran recitals, they were interested and joined him, including Bado and several others.
What motivates Santoso?
I don't know exactly. I can only guess that Santoso wants to continue our old dream, to build the headquarters of Waqalah Uhud Mantiqi III, including a compound. After the authorities cleaned up Tamanjeka, Santoso, Daeng Koro and their allies relocated to Malino, North Morowali. They had a building and yard. Daeng Koro has a house in Malino and his wife and children also live there.
So where is Santoso's wife now?
Santoso has two wives. The first one is Suriani, alias Umi Wardah. She lives in Kalora [Central Sulawesi]. She always refuses to meet people, since after they'd meet her Densus 88 and people from intelligence would likely go to her house. She's afraid. I pity her, she is being psychologically disturbed.
The police have said that Santoso's wife was involved in guerilla warfare in the forest. Is it true?
Oh ... that's the second wife. I was informed that his second wife is from Bima. She is a widow of a dead Mujahidin member who was killed in a shootout with officers. [Previously Central Sulawesi Police chief Brig. Gen. Idham Azis said three women from Bima were involved with Santoso. They joined as guerrilla combatants in the forest.]
Did Santoso study at a pesantren [Islamic boarding school] Ngruki in Surakarta [Central Java]?
I don't know. I only know that Bado or Osama went to the pesantren in Ngruki because I signed the recommendation. At that time -- I forget the year -- a form from Pesantren Ngruki circulated in Poso. The form said for those who join, they will have Muslim women from the pesantren as wives. Many were interested, but only Bado went to Ngruki. There Bado married a woman santri [Islamic school student] from Banding. (afr/dan)(+)
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