JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) – Four suspected militants arrested in Indonesia over the weekend are members of China’s ethnic Uighur minority community and were trying to meet Indonesia’s most wanted extremist, authorities said Monday.
Police said they were investigating whether the four had links to the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq.
Dozens of Indonesians have travelled to the Middle East to join the group and other militant outfits over the last year, energising the country’s long-standing extremist networks. Indonesian authorities, who have struggled against violent extremists for years, have woken up to the emerging threat in recent months. They have outlawed the Islamic State group, but have no laws to stop suspected militants from travelling abroad.
The four Uighurs (pronounced WEE’-gurs) were arrested Saturday in Central Sulawesi province, a major hotbed of militancy in the country.
National police spokesman Col Agus Rianto said the four were arrested with three associates of Abu Wardah Santoso, a fugitive militant leader alleged to be behind the murder of several policemen and Indonesia’s most wanted terrorist suspect.
Rianto said police found stickers with the Islamic State symbol on them in the car the men were travelling in when they were arrested.
Authorities initially thought the four Uighurs were from Turkey, which has linguistic and ethnic ties with the Uighur homeland of Xinjiang, a region in northwestern China.
Xinjiang is home to a separatist insurgency that is infused with militancy. Uighurs are known to have travelled to global militant hotspots, including the Pakistani border, over the past 15 years.a