JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesian security forces are regrouping to launch a more aggressive campaign to hunt for the country’s most-wanted man, police said on Monday, after months of fruitless searching in the jungles of Sulawesi island.
President Joko Widodo has made the arrest of Santoso, Indonesia’s most high-profile backer of Islamic State, one of his national security priorities and had given security forces until Jan. 9 to arrest him.
But Santoso, who has been on the run for more than three years, has proven to be more difficult to catch than expected.
Security forces plan to bring in 500 more policemen and soldiers to reinforce the 1,600 personnel looking for Santoso, who analysts say could be an inspiration for Indonesian militants returning from fighting with Islamic State in the Middle East.
“There is a new operation called Tinombala that will focus on Poso and the surrounding areas,” said Hari Suprapto, spokesman for the Central Sulawesi police, referring to the district where Santoso is believed to be based.
Details of how the military and police would join forces still had to be worked out, he said. Officials at the presidential palace were not available for comment.
Determined to capture Santoso, President Joko Widodo in March approved the first major military counter-terrorism operation since the bombing of two Jakarta hotels in 2009.
A blitz by troops, warships and fighter jets weakened Santoso’s forces, but he got away and officials believe he still commands up to 40 men.
While security forces increase their focus on Santoso in Central Sulawesi, analysts have raised alarm over a growing network of Islamic State supporters around the capital, Jakarta.
Police over the weekend arrested three people after finding bomb-making equipment at a house near Jakarta, said a police spokesman, Sulistyo Pudjo Hartono.
Police said the three were suspected of having links with a group of men arrested across the island of Java last month, who were believed to be planning attacks over the New Year holiday.
Reporting by Kanupriya Kapoor and Agustinus Beo Da Costa; Writing by Randy Fabi; Editing by Robert Birsel