Jakarta. Indonesia’s most wanted terrorist notorious for beheading his victims was killed in a raid by security personnel on Saturday.
Ali Kalora is the leader of East Indonesia Mujahedin, or MIT, which according to security officials is a home-grown militant group whose members pledged allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
While the group has been confined to the jungles in Central Sulawesi in recent years with only a handful of combatants, Ali continued to lead his men to terrorize and brutally murder villagers or unlucky people crossing their path.
He and another key MIT member identified as Jaka Ramadhan were killed in a shootout with government troops in a remote village in the district of Parigi Moutong.
Police seized an M-16 rifle and explosive devices from the scene.
“We had six on the wanted list: two were shot to death, only four remain,” Central Sulawesi Police Chief Insp. Gen. Rudy Sufahriadi said.
Police and the military have launched an enormous manhunt for MIT figures since a decade ago, but Ali wasn’t a high-profile target until July 2016, when group leader Santoso was killed by security personnel and his immediate successor Basri bin Baco Sampe was captured alive a few months later.
Ali rose to leadership with a smaller number of fighters, yet as deadly and terrifying as the group under Santoso’s command.
The National Police formed a special unit called Madago Raya Task Force in January to hunt down Ali and his men.
But he was by no means an easy catch – he kept defying security officials by hiding in the jungles and taking advantage of his Sulawesi nativity to blend with local communities when he came to villages.
Villagers Fall Victims
The group holed up in a mountainous area in the northern coast of the town of Poso, depending on local farmers for food and other basic supplies.
It doesn’t necessarily mean that those farmers are supportive -- the group often killed villagers they accused of becoming police collaborators.
In December 2018, a villager named Ronal Batau, 34, was beheaded and his severed head was left on a bridge away from the body in the district of Parigi Moutong.
A police team en route to the scene to pick up the body was ambushed by MIT fighters, resulting in two officers injured with gunshot wounds.
Three months earlier, a 50-year-old farmer was brutally murdered by MIT in front of his wife in the town of Poso.
MIT attacks targeting villagers intensified in 2018-20.
Following the April 8, 2020 beheading of a farmer identified as Daeng Tapo, a purported video of Ali emerged in social media platforms, in which he claimed responsibility for the attack and accused his victim as a police collaborator.
In the footage, the man identified by police as Ali warned villagers against becoming police informants: “We will slit your throats if you don’t repent.”
As he spoke, another man stood in the background holding an ISIS flag.
The group is responsible for the killing of at least 20 civilians.
For years, the government has made fruitless attempts to capture or kill Ali despite multiple extensions of the so-called Tinombala Operation, a mix of around 2,000 personnel from the police and the army.
A villager himself, Ali knew the jungles like the back of his hand, police once said.
Born as Ali Ahmad 40 years ago, he got the nickname from his home village in Central Sulawesi, Kalora.
Few had heard about him before he took MIT leadership in 2016. Even then, National Police Chief Tito Karnavian said Ali was “way below the caliber of Santoso and Basri” – the previous MIT leaders.
Trapped in the Middle
As security profile was increased in Central Sulawesi, villagers were caught in crossfire between government troops and MIT. There were reports of civilians fatally shot by police who mistakenly identify them as MIT members.
The National Police have admitted to a fatal incident that killed two innocent civilians on June 2, 2020. Two men taking shelter from the rain at a shack in a Central Sulawesi village were shot by police patrol who suspected them as militants.
The National Commission for Human Rights also launched an inquiry into another incident in which 20-year-old Qidam Al Fariski was killed by police after he trespassed the backyard of a police station in Poso carrying backpack last April.
The family said Qidam was not a militant and he carried clothes in his backpack.
Villagers became increasingly skeptical about police ability to restore peace and stability. They learned that being cooperative to either camp could cost their lives.
The growing public distrust to security officials favored MIT to some extent, while having a damaging impact on government’s intelligence capabilities.
The militants could visit villages for supplies and walked away undetected as villagers were uncertain about security if they informed law enforcement officials.
Having evaded police arrests after committing to so many horrific murders, Ali once again put the patience of the government to a major test.
On November 27 last year, he led his men to the gruesome murders of a Christian family in the district of Sigi. One of the four victims was beheaded and two others were mutilated.
Since then, things have become very serious and a new task force was formed to replace the Tinombala Operation with the main goal of capturing or killing Ali.
Shift in Target
When Ali became leader, MIT was already weakened and cornered to the jungles and rural areas, forcing them to shift target to villagers.
Back in the early 2010s, Santoso’s MIT went to the city for high-profile targets, including police officers and businesses.
In May 2011, they launched daylight attack on a private bank in the provincial capital Palu and killed two policemen.
The restive Central Sulawesi got central government attention but a major security operation that followed didn’t stop the militants from killing more officers.
In October 2012, two police brigadiers were kidnapped and killed by MIT members. Authorities found their bodies around a week later.
In December that year, a police patrol was ambushed in the village of Kalora, Ali’s childhood home. The attack left three officers dead.
That’s when Ali was included in the wanted list along with Santoso and Basri.
Overall, the National Police have lost eight members in the battle against MIT in the past decade.
The hope to finally locate Ali rose in July last year, when the counter-terrorism squad Detachment 88 arrested Ali’s wife, 28-year-old Ummu Syifa.
She was charged under the anti-terrorism law for concealing information about a terror fugitive, but it turned out that investigators couldn’t get any important lead to Ali’s whereabouts.
It took another 10 months before the task force located and killed Ali and another militant in Parigi Moutong, Central Sulawesi.
It appears that the man with a reputation as cop killer and the butcher of Poso apparently never left the tiny province since his inclusion to the wanted list.
Yet it took nearly a decade and thousands of security personnel to bring him justice.