Indonesia’s most wanted Muslim militant may have been killed Monday in a firefight with security forces, police said, after a lengthy hunt for the Islamic State (IS) group supporter.
Santoso, the leader of extremist group the Eastern Indonesia Mujahideen, is suspected to have been shot dead along with another militant in a jungle-clad, mountainous district on central Sulawesi island.
National police chief Tito Karnavian said there were indications the man killed was Santoso.
“There are indeed signs, a mole on his forehead, which matches the features of Santoso,” he said, adding the bodies of those killed were being removed from the site of the firefight for further identification.
As well as those killed, one other man and two women managed to escape during the firefight in Tambarana village, said Karnavian.
If confirmed, the death of Santoso would represent a major victory for the Indonesian authorities who had sent thousands of troops and soldiers to Sulawesi to hunt him down.
Santoso, known by several aliases including Abu Wardah, led a small group of ragtag fighters who had been hiding in the jungles for several years and were known for carrying out deadly attacks on domestic security forces.
He had pledged allegiance to the IS group and was put on a list of global terrorists by the United States earlier this year, and in recent times several members of China’s ethnic Uighur minority had joined his group.
However analysts think that other cells in Indonesia may now pose an even greater threat, and Santoso was not believed to have played a role in a deadly attack on Jakarta in January claimed by IS.