Indonesia arrests three with suspected links to Islamic State amid terror alert

Jakarta: Indonesian police on Thursday arrested three men with suspected links to Islamic State as part of an operation in the province of Central Sulawesi to capture the country's most-wanted man, state media reported.

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The arrests came as the US embassy in Jakarta issued an "emergency message" for US citizens warning of potential security threats at tourist beaches on the island of Lombok surrounding the New Year's celebrations.

Counter-terrorism officials believe there are at least 1000 sympathisers of the radical jihadist group across Indonesia. More than a dozen men suspected of planning bomb attacks over the holiday period were arrested in a series of raids recently, and the hunt is on for their ringleaders.

"This morning my team just reported that they had captured three more people," the Antara news agency quoted Central Sulawesi police chief Idham Azis as saying.

He gave no details of the arrests or the identities of the men, but said they are thought to be linked to militant leader Santoso, who has eluded capture for years and is holed up in jungles near Poso town in Central Sulawesi.


A National Police spokesman did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the Antara report.

Azis said a hunt for Santoso and about 30 of his followers would conclude on January 9. He said seven suspected militants as well as two policemen and an army officer had been killed in the operation.

US authorities on Wednesday noted arrests made by authorities in Turkey, Belgium and Indonesia in connection with suspected plots by Islamic State operatives or sympathisers to launch attacks over the holiday, and said they were monitoring investigations.

Analysts say Santoso, the first Indonesian to publicly pledge loyalty to Islamic State, may be an inspiration for would-be jihadis and militants returning from fighting with the group in Syria.

However, some believe there is a bigger threat closer to the capital, Jakarta, on the populous island of Java, where most of the recent arrests were made, and say militants could increasingly target Westerners.

The US embassy message did not spell out the security threat on Lombok, whose beaches are popular with Western holidaymakers, but it did mention specifically Senggigi Beach, the main tourist strip on the west of the island.

Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade reiterated the US's message in its latest travel advice: "We advise you to exercise a high degree of caution in Indonesia, including Bali, at this time due to the high threat of terrorist attack."

Meanwhile in New York, a 25-year-old man who planned to attack a restaurant in upstate New York on New Year's Eve has been arrested and charged with attempting to provide material support to Islamic State.

Emanuel L. Lutchman allegedly planned to commit an armed attack against civilians in the Rochester area of New York, after apparently receiving direction from the Islamic State group, the US Justice Department said.

Lutchman is being described as self-professed Muslim convert with a criminal history dating back to approximately 2006, with previous state mental hygiene arrests.


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