JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Indonesian police said Saturday they arrested at least 27 suspected militants believed to have links to banned extremist groups, in a nationwide crackdown as the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country gears up for elections in 2024.
The police's elite counterterrorism squad, known as Densus 88, made the arrests on Friday in the capital, Jakarta, and in West Java and Central Sulawesi provinces, said National Police spokesperson Ahmad Ramadhan.
“We are still investigating and interrogating all those arrested in search for other possible suspects,” said Aswin Siregar, the spokesperson of Densus 88 told The Associated Press.
Most of the arrested are suspected of being members of a homegrown militant outfit affiliated with the Islamic State group known as Jemmaah Anshorut Daulah, or JAD, he said.
The arrests were made after the interrogation of 18 suspected militants arrested since Oct. 2, Ramadhan said.
Some local media reports said those arrested were linked to an alleged plot of militant attacks meant to disrupt the elections in February 2024, but Ramadhan quickly downplayed them.
“There is no indication of increasing terrorism threats ahead of next year’s elections so far,” he said. “This is part of our efforts to take preventive action against possible acts of terror in the country.”
A court in 2018 banned JAD. The group has been weakened by a sustained crackdown on militants by Densus 88. The United States listed JAD as a terrorist group in 2017.
The group was responsible for several deadly suicide bombings in Indonesia, including a deadly 2016 attack in Jakarta that killed eight people and a wave of suicide bombings in 2018 in Indonesia’s second-largest city of Surabaya, where two families, including girls aged 9 and 12, blew themselves up at churches and a police station, killing 13 people.
Indonesia is set to vote in simultaneous legislative and presidential elections on Feb. 14 next year.
Indonesia launched a crackdown on militants following the bombings on the resort island of Bali in 2002 that killed 202 people, mostly Western and Asian tourists.
Recently, militant attacks on foreigners in Indonesia have been largely replaced in recent years by smaller, less deadly strikes targeting the government, mainly police and anti-terrorism forces.