The Jakarta Post
The Indonesian government is teaming up with Turkish authorities to search for 16 Indonesians who went missing while on a group tour in Istanbul.
There are indications that they may have joined the Islamic State (IS) militant group.
According to the Foreign Ministry, the 16 Indonesians, six of whom are children ' with one being 10 months old ' and another a teenager, entered Turkey with nine other Indonesians on Feb. 24 on a tour arranged by Smailing Tour travel agency. The 16 immediately separated from the group after passing through immigration.
They reportedly promised to meet the group in Pamukkale city on Feb. 26, but there had been no news of them by the time the group was scheduled to return home on March 4.
The tour organizer also failed to reach them for confirmation on their departure.
President Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo said on Sunday that the country's relevant institutions, including the National Intelligence Agency (BIN), would be involved in the joint search team.
'It is believed that [they] headed to Syria, but it hasn't been confirmed. We are working on it and all relevant law enforcers will assist [the Foreign Ministry] in the search,' Jokowi said.
Although the investigation is still in progress, Muhammad Iqbal, who heads the Foreign Ministry's division for the protection of Indonesian citizens and legal agencies, referred to the case as premeditated, highlighting that the 16 had never intended to enter Turkey for a vacation nor return on the scheduled departure date.
'This is not a missing persons case because these people planned not to return to Indonesia from the very beginning,' Iqbal told the press on the sidelines of a discussion in Jakarta on Sunday.
'But I cannot confirm yet whether or not they have joined IS because we are still working with the Turkish authorities to search for their whereabouts,' Iqbal emphasized.
According to the ministry, 10 of the 16 people are registered as residents of Surabaya, East Java, while the remaining six lived in Surakarta, Central Java.
While reports of Indonesians joining IS are not new, the ministry's spokesperson, Arrmanatha Nasir, said the alleged attempt to enter Syria while presumably vacationing in Turkey was the first case involving Indonesians.
'It is not new for foreigners [in Turkey], but it's definitely a new mode for Indonesians, according to the local police,' Arrmanatha said.
Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Tedjo Edhy Purdijatno recently revealed that so far 541 Indonesians had joined IS in Iraq and Syria.
Following the disappearance of the 16 Indonesians, Tedjo said the government would heighten measures to prevent more Indonesians joining the militant group because 'according to BIN and the National Police, some Indonesians who disappeared abroad had confirmed it'.
As part of the security measures, earlier this year, Jokowi issued a regulation allowing authorities to revoke the passports of citizens who support IS.
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