Militant suspects held in Indonesia pledged Islamic State loyalty – police

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JAKARTA (Reuters) – Members of a cohort of suspected extremists arrested in Indonesia at the weekend had made pledges of loyalty to Islamic State via an instant messaging application, the national police said on Tuesday.

Indonesia’s elite Densus 88 counter-terrorism taskforce arrested two dozen suspects during raids on Saturday and subsequent interviews revealed some had performed bayat, or a pledge of allegiance, to Islamic State’s new leader, Abu al-Hassan al-hashemi al-Quraishi, police said.

National police spokesperson Ahmad Ramadhan said 22 of the suspects were detained in central Sulawesi, an area with a long history of sectarian violence and extremism, and were linked to the East Indonesia Mujahideen (MIT) network.

They had assisted MIT by providing ammunition and concealing their activities, he told a news conference. The other two arrests were made on Java island and in Kalimantan.

Members of the group performed bayat by reading a text message circulated on their WhatsApp messenger accounts, he added.

As many as 1,100 men, women and children left Indonesia to join the Islamic State at the height of the group’s control of territory in Syria and Iraq, according to Jakarta-based security expert Sidney Jones.

Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation, suffered its worst militant attack in 2002 when two nightclubs on the island of Bali were bombed, killing 202 people, mostly foreign tourists.

The attacks were carried out by Jemaah Islamiyah, a militant group that later conducted bombings in the capital Jakarta.

Analysts say the threat of extremist attacks has since diminished significantly and while arrests of suspected extremists do take place, pledges of allegiance to Islamic State have been rare.

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(Reporting by Stanley Widianto; Writing by Kate Lamb; Editing by Martin Petty)