The Jakarta Post, Palu, Sun, January 13 2013,
Who is responsible for the acts of terror in Poso, Central Sulawesi? The question is often a topic of discussion among many people. During the discussions, the name Santoso is frequently mentioned.
The man is currently the most wanted suspected terrorist in Poso as he is said to be the leader of a terrorist group involved in various terror attacks in the regency.
Attacks launched in 2012 include the murder of two police officers, Andi Sappa and Sudirman, in Tamanjeka hamlet, Poso Pesisir, in August; a bomb attack in North Poso, also in August; a bomb attack at a Poso City Police post in September; the shooting of the North Poso Pesisir Police station chief in November; and the shooting of four police Mobile Brigade (Brimob) members in North Poso Pesisir in December.
So, just who is Santoso? According to various sources, Santoso is a school dropout. Before the devastating riot of 2000, Santoso was a thug operating at the Poso central market.
He was a former member of the group led by Basri, who was on top of the police’s wanted list in 2007. Basri eventually surrendered to police after a gunfight on Feb. 1, 2007 in Poso. Basri was believed to be a member of the Jamaah Islamiyah group.
After Basri was arrested and subsequently imprisoned, the hard-line group in Poso was without a leader until Santoso took over later in 2007.
However, Santoso disappeared soon after that. It is believed he went to Java and Bima, West Nusa Tenggara (NTB), and later joined the Jamaah Ansharut Tauhid (JAT) group, formed by Abu Bakar Ba’asyir, who is currently serving time in Nusa Kambangan Penitentiary in Central Java.
During his absence from Poso, Santoso reportedly learned guerilla warfare strategies and how to assemble bombs. He is also adept at operating a computer and the Internet.
Santoso’s name emerged again when two police officers stationed at a security post at a private bank in Palu, were shot dead in May 2011.
A week later, two suspects in the attack were shot by the police’s Densus 88 counterterrorism squad in a Poso forest.
“They were members of Santoso’s gang,” Central Sulawesi Police chief Brig. Gen. Dewa Parsana said.
Santoso and his men from Bima reportedly set up militant training camps in Gunung Biru, Tamanjeka hamlet, Poso Pesisir, and in Malino village, Malei district, and turned Gunung Biru into their base camp.
Santoso and a number of Bima residents arrived in Poso after a bomb explosion at the Umar bin Khattab Islamic boarding school, led by Abrori bin Ayubi, in Bima in July 2011.
A few days before Christmas, police nabbed Mutun, alias Dhani, who is believed to be a member of Santoso’s group. Mutun admitted that Santoso was still in Poso. The police said they had obtained information on Santoso’s whereabouts from him.
Poso has experienced prolonged sectarian conflict in past years. Conflict broke out in 1998, and again in 2000, when more than 2,000 people were either killed or went missing. In 2001, a peace pact called the Malino Declaration was signed in Malino, South Sulawesi, facilitated by former vice president Jusuf Kalla.
After the Malino Declaration, no more conflict involving the Muslim and Christian communities occurred, but the seeds of terrorism have thrived ever since.
A number of people, who are still consistent in their struggle, are believed to have joined JAT.
A researcher with the Prasasti Indonesia Foundation, Taufik Andrie, said the recent terror attacks in Poso were more directed at the police and not civilians.
They apparently target the police because they are regarded as a hindrance to their cause. For the terrorists, dying in the line of a religious cause is shuhada (martyrdom) and the authorities are considered enemies who must be fought.
“Members of the group also choose to die for their religious cause, because for them it is shuhada and the reward is heaven. This is dangerous,” said Taufik.
The police have launched a number of operations to secure Poso and track down Santoso, but to no avail.
A former member of a hard-line group in Tokorondo village who has become a pacifist, identified only as AT, told The Jakarta Post that he often saw Santoso riding a motorcycle in Poso Pesisir.
“I was threatened by him [Santoso] twice. If I were to go missing or be killed, the perpetrator would likely be Santoso,” AT told the Post.