Jakarta. The National Police and Indonesia Military has launched an operation to hunt down an Islamist terror group East Indonesia Mujahidin, or MIT, hiding in a forest in Sigi, Central Sulawesi, after the terrorist allegedly killed a Christian family in The Salvation Army church's outpost on Friday.
This was the third violent attack by the terror group in the last three months. Ali Ahmad, also known as Ali Kalora, lead an estimated ten followers and has been evading the government's military operation in the Central Sulawesi jungle for the past two years.
"Today, we are deploying 100 troops from the Tinombala Task Force, Central Sulawesi Police Mobile Brigade, and Indonesia Military to carry out the pursuit of the Ali Kalora group," Brig. Gen. Awi Setiyono, the National Police spokesman, said on Saturday.
The police first received a report on Friday that an unknown group attacked a family in Lemban Tongoa village in Sigi and burned their houses, Awi said. The first police arrived at the scene at 01:00 on Friday, finding four bodies and seven houses burned down. Two of the bodies were mutilated, while one of them was beheaded.
Adjutant Chief Comr. Yoga Priyahutama, the Sigi police chief, lead an investigation team that questioned five witnesses at the scene.
"It was stated that the perpetrators were at least 10 people, three of them carried firearms," Awi said.
The witnesses identified three of the attackers as members of East Indonesia Mujahidin, based on the terrorists' photograph the police shown to them, Awi said.
The other 150 families in Lembantongoa village have evacuated to a safer place to avoid further conflicts.
East Indonesia Mujahidin
MIT was a terror organization mainly operating in Central Sulawesi, with an affiliation to Southeast Asia transnational terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah. Ali Kalora emerged as the group's new leader after a police operation in July 2016 killed MIT charismatic leader Santoso.
In August, the group ambushed and robbed a vehicle carrying medical workers. In a separate incident, MIT took two farmers' hostages and killed one of them. The military operation in the last two years has reduced the group fighting force to around a dozen members, who hide in the thick jungle of Central Sulawesi.
The National police initiated Operation Tinombala in January to hunt down the remaining members of the MIT.
The Salvation Army
The Salvation Army said in a statement on Saturday that the victims were the church's members working in a Sulawesi outpost, looking to establish the church work and develop a society there.
Brian Peddle, international leader of The Salvation Army, denounced the terror attack. "Throughout all aspects of Salvation Army ministry and influence, we work for peace," he said.
"We find the news from Lembantongoa greatly disturbing. Our hearts go out to our people who have been victims of evil and to the families of those whose faith has caused such harm. I call upon all Salvationists to pray for each person who has been affected, for the continuing witness of our people, and for healing in the communities," he said.
Yusak Tampai, The Salvation Army's territorial commander for Indonesia, urged around 60,000 of the church members in the region to "remain calm but alert and careful, spreading a strong message of hope and uniting in prayer to strengthen each other."
Erik A. Kape, The Salvation Army's commander for Palu, said on Sunday that four men falling victim in Friday's attack were part of The Salvation Army's small congregation in the village.
"The congregation consists of 12 families, with around 40 people. They hold regular mass service every week and Sunday school for the children there," Erik said.
He also said that East Indonesia Mujahidin's attack on Friday burned down six-building including The Salvation Army's church.
"I was a little bit disappointed that it was described [in the news] as a residential house used as a church. That was wrong. I can assure you that it was a church because I was the one who officiated it last Christmas," Erik said.
He said he hoped the security forces would catch the terror group soon.
"We hope the security apparatus to arrest the perpetrators immediately. Let this be the last thing. No more innocent victims should die,” Erik said.
Indonesian Communion of Churches (PGI) strongly condemned Friday's attack and called for the government to catch the terrorists and secure the area.
"This incident demonstrates barbaric acts that should be denounced by all civilized people," Philip Situmorang, a PGI's spokesman said in a statement on Saturday.
"We continue to pray for and support all the government's efforts to maintain the security and order of the people in the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia, that is free from acts of terror and extremism," Philip.
The National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) also condemned the attack. “There must be no room for terrorists in this country," Dedi Askary, Komnas HAM representative for Central Sulawesi, said.
The Indonesian Solidarity Party (PSI) and the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P), and the National Democratic Party also released statements to condemn the attack on Saturday, while other parties remained silent.
Zainal Abidin, the chairman of the Central Sulawesi Religious Harmony Forum (FKUB), called all parties in Central Sulawesi to remain calm and not link the attack to any religion.
"Any religion does not teach and justify the act of killing fellow humans," Zainal, who is also the chairman of the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) in Palu, said.