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Politics

Indonesia says most-wanted terrorist dead

JAKARTA -- Indonesian police say they have killed the country's most-wanted terror fugitive with links to the extremist group Islamic State -- less than a week after a new police chief was sworn in.

Santoso -- also known as Abu Wardah -- had been in hiding for several years in the depths of the jungles of Poso district, Central Sulawesi Province, before he and another gunman were fatally shot during a joint operation by police and the military in Poso on Monday afternoon.

"I've just received information that the fingerprint matches an old one of [Santoso]," National Police chief Gen. Tito Karnavian said in Jakarta on Tuesday afternoon. "He had been detained before, so we can conclude 100% that the dead person was Santoso."

Karnavian said earlier in the day police were still awaiting a DNA test result to confirm the identities of the two militants fatally shot in an exchange of gunfire with security officers.

With the fingerprint result supporting physical identification, however, DNA test results may no longer be necessary. The other militant killed was identified as one of Santoso's followers.

Santoso, 40, was the commander of the Eastern Indonesia Mujahideen (MIT), which became the most prominent terror group in the archipelago after police managed to largely incapacitate Jemaah Islamiyah. JI, the Southeast Asian counterpart of al-Qaida, was responsible for large-scale terror attacks in Indonesia in the 2000s -- including the 2002 Bali bombings that killed 202 people.

While JI targeted Western establishments, MIT became known after its series of attacks targeting police officers and police facilities in 2012 -- in what many see as a retaliation against the police's crackdown on local terror cells.

Santoso was reportedly a former seller of religious books who was inspired by Abu Bakar Ba'asyir, a firebrand cleric and spiritual leader of JI currently serving time in an Indonesian prison.

His group had been holding paramilitary training for local militants in Poso jungles -- even before Santoso pledged his allegiance to the Islamic State group in Syria in 2014. Santoso proclaimed himself the local "commander" of IS in Indonesia in a video uploaded on YouTube in 2015.

Security officers had been having difficulty catching up to Santoso and his followers, in spite of numerous previous raids, because they have been moving as guerrillas in Poso jungles. Santoso himself had been on the police's wanted list since 2007. He and his group's activities have contributed to Poso being named a terrorist hotbed in Indonesia.

Monday's "successful" security operation is seen as Karnavian's first major achievement since he was sworn in as the new chief of the National Police last week. Prior to the position, Karnavian had served as the head of the police's anti-terror squad, Densus 88, and later the head of the National Counterterrorism Agency, or BNPT.

Police say anti-terror raids will continue following Santoso's death.

Apart from dozens of other members of MIT still hiding in Poso jungles, there are other terror cells in Indonesia operating independently, such as one led by a man called Bahrun Naim. Naim, who is believed to have joined IS in Syria, allegedly orchestrated a terror attack in Jakarta in January that killed eight people.

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