JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Twenty-two suspects arrested in recent weeks were connected to the banned Jemaah Islamiyah militant group — among them a convicted leader who was recruiting and training new members, Indonesian authorities said Thursday .
The 22 men were flown Thursday under the guard of Indonesia’s elite counterterrorism squad from Surabaya, the capital of East Java province, to a police detention center in the national capital Jakarta for further questioning. Television footage showed them being led off the plane, their hands and legs cuffed and their faces masked.
A dozen of them were arrested in different cities in East Java province late last month. Counterterrorism police arrested another 10 early this month.
Police also seized a pistol, knives, long swords, machetes and jihadist books, said Rusdi Hartono, the National Police spokesperson.
He said the suspects conducted military-style training in East Java’s Malang district and plotted to attack on-duty police. Hartono said previously the suspects created a bunker for weapons and bombmaking and prepared a route to escape after carrying out their planned attacks.
Among the suspects transferred was Usman bin Sef, also known as Fahim. Fahim was a veteran fighter in Afghanistan who was sentenced to three and half years in jail in 2005 for harboring Malaysian terror fugitive Noordin Top and for a plot to attack police, said Aswin Siregar, the operation chief of police counterterrorism squad, known as Densus 88.
“In the current operation, Fahim had established a training ground with a program to create a jihadist group to fight in Medina for next year,” Siregar told a news conference, referring to the holy city in Saudi Arabia. He did not elaborate on what the group was planning there.
“We will continue to hunt them down, there will be no place for JI in Indonesia,” Siregar said.
East Java vice police chief Slamet Hadi Suprapto told reporters in Surabaya that the JI cell led by Fahim had recruited at least 50 new members in the province in the past five years.
The arrests came almost three months after authorities arrested 22 alleged JI members in Lampung province on Sumatra island, including JI’s suspected military leader, Zulkarnaen, who had been wanted for more than 18 years.
Zulkarnaen was arrested in early December and also has been transferred to Jakarta for further investigation.
The al-Qaida-linked Jemaah Islamiyah carried out a string of past bombings in Indonesia, including the 2002 bombings in Bali that killed 202 people, mostly foreign tourists. It was banned by a court in 2008 and has been weakened by a sustained crackdown on militants by Indonesia’s counterterrorism police with U.S. and Australian support.