Indonesia’s most wanted terrorist is dead.
Santoso, also known as Abu Wardah, was killed in a firefight with security forces on Monday in Poso, Central Sulawesi, Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Luhut Panjaitan said.
The late militant was the leader of the East Indonesia Mujahideen (EIM), the first militant group in the country to pledge allegiance to the so-called Islamic State.
Security forces have been pursuing Santoso’s group since 2012, but it took an intensified joint military and police operation beginning in early January to finally track him down.
Santoso was killed alongside another militant, according to National Police spokesman Boy Rafli Amar. The terrorist leader was later identified via his fingerprints.
As leader of EIM, Santoso had been blamed for a number of police killings in Central Sulawesi. The group also targeted civilians they said leaked information about them.
Poso, where the group is based, was a center of sectarian violence in Indonesia from 1998 to 2002 and continues to be a stronghold for Islamic militant groups.
Sidney Jones, Director of the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict, said Santoso’s death was a significant step in Indonesia’s fight against terrorism.
“There is no longer anyone who represents the symbolic heart of the Indonesian jihadi movement the way Santoso did,” she said.
However, she warned that Santoso’s death may actually increase the risk of violence in the region, especially against the military.
“The main threat wasn’t coming from Poso … it is coming from jihadi cells on Java, including in Jakarta. Now with Santoso’s death to avenge, there may be a new incentive to go forward, even if there is little to suggest any increased capacity. Indonesians in Syria may order their respective followers to attack.”
While the manhunt for Santoso’s group intensified just days before a July 16 attack in Central Jakarta that killed six, it is not believed that EIM was begind it.
The four attackers, who were also killed, had known ties to jailed radical cleric Aman Abdurrahman.
Another Indonesian ISIS supporter, Bahrun Naim, is believed to have planned the country’s most recent terror attack, a July 5 suicide bombing at a police state in the city of Solo in Central Java, that left one police officer injured.
Panjaitan played down the potential of backlash from Santoso supporters, but said the government is prepared for the changing global terror threat, where lone wolves can plan and launch attacks undetected.
“Is the terror threat over? Of course not,” he said. “You take one out, another one comes. So we will pursue them until the very end.”
With Santoso and Poso no longer the heart of Indonesia’s jihadist movement, Jones said there may be a surge in Indonesians joining southern Philippines-based militant group Abu Sayyaf.