July 26, 2023
JAKARTA – Indonesia’s arrest of four suspected terrorists from Uzbekistan – and their subsequent deadly escape attempt – highlights how South-east Asia remains vulnerable to the dangers of radicalisation, the Singapore authorities warned on Monday.
The four, aged 26 to 40, were first arrested in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta on March 24, Singapore’s Internal Security Department (ISD) said.
Three of them were combat-trained members of militant group Katiba Tawhid Wal Jihad (KTWJ), which is linked to terror group Al-Qaeda, while the fourth had provided financial assistance and fake travel documents to the others.
Three suspects later broke out of a detention facility, killing one officer and injuring three others in the process, said ISD in its annual Terrorism Threat Assessment Report. Two were recaptured and one drowned in his bid to escape.
The report, which takes stock of the security environment in the region, said one of the suspects was responsible for recruiting and sending prospective operatives to KTWJ while he was based in Turkey.
The four had arrived separately in Indonesia in February from Istanbul, transiting through Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates and Malaysia.
“The suspects disseminated extremist propaganda materials to recruit like-minded Indonesians to conduct terror attacks in Indonesia,” said ISD.
One suspect reportedly married an Indonesian woman in Bandung, West Java, to facilitate the four suspects’ travel to the archipelago.
About a fortnight after their arrest, three of them escaped from an immigration detention facility in Jakarta on April 10, ISD said.
During the escape, they stole a knife from a pantry at the detention centre and fatally stabbed an immigration officer and injured three others, local media reported.
This was during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, when Muslims fast from dawn to dusk.
The suspects reportedly broke through the ceiling of the room they were detained in and attacked officers who were having their pre-dawn meal.
Two of the escapees were recaptured in a police manhunt while the third drowned after jumping into a river.
ISD warned that with most countries having lifted cross-border travel restrictions following the pandemic, radicalised people from the region may revisit their plans to travel to conflict zones to become foreign terrorist fighters.
The department estimated that 600 South-east Asians are linked to terror group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in Syria, where they are likely to remain based.
These individuals could be there for training purposes. Some are known to be in contact with supporters in the region via social media and could be facilitating travel.
ISD also highlighted similar cases in Yemen and Afghanistan.
Once embedded in their host organisations, “they could serve as bridges between global terror networks and regional militant groups, facilitate the transfer of operational expertise, and even facilitate and direct attacks back home”.