PALU, Indonesia (AP) — Indonesian security forces on Sunday killed two suspected militants with ties to the Islamic State group who were believed to be connected to the killing of Christian farmers on Sulawesi island, the country’s military said.
The two men, identified as Rukli and Ahmad Gazali, were fatally shot during a pre-dawn raid by a five-man team of military and police in Central Sulawesi province’s mountainous Parigi Moutong district, said Maj. Gen. Richard Tampubolon, who heads the joint operation. Parigi Moutong borders Poso district, considered an extremist hotbed in the province.
Security operations in Central Sulawesi have intensified in recent months to try to capture members of the East Indonesia Mujahideen network, particularly targeting Ali Kalora, the group’s leader and Indonesia’s most wanted militant. The network pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group in 2014.
Tampubolon said the security team located the militant camp on Wednesday in the densely forested village of Tanah Lanto.
The team was able to approach the camp early Sunday with five militants inside, however three militants escaped the firefight into the jungle, Tampubolon said in a statement.
He said security forces were still searching for the seven remaining members of group who are still at large, including Kalora.
The East Indonesia Mujahideen has claimed responsibility for several killings of police and Christians.
In May, the group killed four Christians in Kalemago village of Poso district, including one victim who was beheaded. Authorities said the attack was in revenge for the killing in March of two militants, including the son of the group’s former leader Abu Wardah Santoso.
Kalora’s predecessor was killed by security forces in July 2016. Dozens of other leaders and members of the group have been killed or captured since then.
Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation, has conducted a sustained crackdown on Islamic militants since bombings on the tourist island of Bali in 2002 killed 202 people, mostly foreigners.
Attacks on foreigners have been largely replaced by smaller, less deadly strikes targeting the government, police and anti-terrorism forces.