JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) – Indonesian police may have foiled a massive attack against the president and made progress in its fight against terrorists, but at least two powerful militants who are still a threat to the country remain at large, officials and analysts said Saturday.
Police have arrested 58 suspected Islamic militants and killed 13 in a series of raids since February, when authorities broke up a training camp in the country’s west run by a previously unknown terror group calling itself Al Qaeda in Aceh.
Police announced Friday that intelligence gleaned from the detained suspects and evidence seized from their hide-outs revealed an elaborate plot to assassinate President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, conduct Mumbai-style raids on hotels and foreigners, and establish an Islamic state.
Authorities believe they have incapacitated the group but National Police Chief Gen. Bambang Hendarso Danuri acknowledged they are still hunting at least two key suspects, Abdullah Sunata and Umar Patek. Sunata is suspected of leading the Aceh group after its chief was killed in March, while Patek is accused of helping to mastermind the 2002 Bali nightclub bombings that killed 202 people.
“The ones still at large are big fish and big threats to our community,” said Noorhuda Ismail, a terrorism analyst and head of the Institute for International Peace Building. Sunata is the country’s most-wanted fugitive, Danuri said. “Sunata is a man of capable anything. Sunata is our top priority,” Danuri said.
In 2006, Sunata was sentenced to seven years in jail for possession of weapons and for hiding the late Noordin Top, a Malaysian wanted in connection with five major bombings in Indonesia who was killed by police in September. He was released in April 2009 on good behavior but returned to the terror network.
Ismail said both Sunata and Patek are a threat because of their ability to persuade supporters to join the militant cause.
“Both of these men have a strong network both overseas and in Indonesia,” he said. “Their ability to get new recruits is strong, and they are protected by their network who see them as mujahid (freedom fighters).”
When arrested, Sunata told interrogators he first met Patek and the late Dulmatin, who was shot dead by police in March, in 1999 in Indonesia’s Ambon region, where the two were prominent insurgent leaders in the fight against Christians.
Al Chaidar, another analyst from Aceh, agreed that Patek and Sunata are currently the most dangerous men in the region’s terror network.
“Patek and Sunata are the biggest threats for us now as they are the main terrorists in the game,” Chaidar said. “In fact, Patek is a great general in this terror war.”
Indonesia has battled Islamist militants with links to Al Qaeda since 2002, when extremists bombed a nightclub district on Bali island killing 202 people, most of them foreigners. Since then, a much-praised regional security crackdown has seen hundreds of militants killed or captured and convicted, but they have proved to be a resilient foe. The last major attack was in July 2009 when suicide bombers targeted luxury hotels in the capital Jakarta.