Indonesia’s specialized counterterrorism police unit has apprehended at least 59 individuals suspected of militant activities in recent weeks. This operation comes as the nation prepares for the 2024 elections and was announced by the police on Tuesday.
The arrests were made in eight provinces since Oct. 2, including 27 suspects who were arrested Friday, said Aswin Siregar, the spokesperson of the squad known as Densus 88. Those arrested believed to have links to banned extremist groups who were allegedly plotting to disrupt next year’s election, he said.
Indonesia is the world’s third-largest democracy and the most populous Muslim-majority country. It’s set to vote in simultaneous legislative and presidential elections on Feb. 14. The country has had free and largely peaceful elections since the fall of dictator Suharto in 1998.
Siregar said the arrested suspects told investigators during interrogation that “they have planned action to attack security forces to thwart or disrupt next year’s election.”
“They want to establish a caliphate under Sharia in a secular country,” Siregar said. “Elections are a part of democracy, which is contrary to their beliefs. Therefore, they planned to thwart it.”
Police seized an assault rifle and magazine, dozens of rounds of ammunition and a pistol, as well as airsoft guns and blades that they used in the group’s military-style trainings, Siregar said.
He said 19 of the arrested are suspected of being members of Jemaah Islamiyah, an al-Qaida-linked group responsible for attacks including the 2002 bombings in Bali that killed 202 people, mostly foreign tourists.
About 40 others are believed to have links to a homegrown militant outfit affiliated with the Islamic State group known as Jemaah Anshorut Daulah, while some of them admitted they are part of an unstructured extremist cell.
JI was banned by a court in 2008 and has been weakened by a sustained crackdown on militants by counterterrorism police, with support from the United States and Australia.
An Indonesian court banned JAD in 2018, and the United States listed it as a terrorist group in 2017.
JAD was responsible for several deadly suicide bombings in Indonesia, including a wave of suicide bombings in 2018 in Indonesia’s second-largest city of Surabaya, where two families, including girls who were 9 and 12, blew themselves up at churches and a police station, killing 13 people.
Indonesia has been battling militancy since JI carried out bombings on the resort island of Bali in 2002.
Recently, militant attacks on foreigners have been largely replaced by smaller, less deadly strikes targeting the government — mainly police, anti-terrorism forces and locals deemed to be infidels, inspired by Islamic State group attacks abroad.