Indonesian police said Wednesday that they had killed Dulmatin, one of Southeast Asia’s most-wanted militants, during a raid outside Jakarta. Mr. Dulmatin's recent activities sheds light on how Indonesia's militant Islamists are splintering and adapting, experts say.
Dulmatin and two other men were killed during a raid that has been linked to a group of alleged militants captured last month in Aceh. Sidney Jones, a leading authority on Indonesian militant groups at the International Crisis Group in Jakarta, says Dulmatin was part of a group of men who have broken away from a range of militant organizations out of frustration at a lack of militant action by those groups.
Dulmatin is believed to have helped plot and execute the 2002 Bali nightclub bombing that killed 202 people, mostly foreigners. His death comes six months after members of Indonesia’s US-trained counterterrorism unit killed Noordin Top, the leader of a splinter group of the al-Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiyah.
Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, has made significant progress on tracking down militants in a country that sits at the center of what the US has called a second front in the war on terror. Dulmatin’s death is a signal of the police’s increasing intelligence-gathering ability, but officials were cautious about celebrating.
“There is continued cooperation among different cells,” says Dharmawan Ronodipuro, spokesman for the antiterror unit at Indonesia’s security ministry. “As long as they maintain the same aspirations, we will face a continuous battle against them.”
Dulmatin’s death does not mean much for JI, Jones says, but he was a crucial link between a group that calls itself Al Qaeda for Southeast Asia and militant groups in the Philippines, including the Abu Sayyaf.
Understanding the personal connections between these groups is necessary to determine financing and support for transnational crime, analysts say. “How else do you send 20 people for military training?” asks Noor Huda Ismail, a terrorism analyst, referring to a paramilitary camp in Aceh where police have captured 21 militants since late February.
He calls Dulmatin’s death disappointing, and says it raises more questions than it answers. “It’s clear that this is a major blow to weaken the network, but we lose so much invaluable information by killing these [militants].”
Noor Huda says Dulmatin could have been up to a lot in the eight years he was on the run. The police have proven their ability to glean information from alleged terrorists through interrogation and should pursue that approach rather than shooting to kill, he says.
Other analysts share that sentiment, but say opportunities to gather intelligence still exist. “The police have a goldmine of information with the 21 people they have arrested,” says Jones. “Dulmatin was one of the most dangerous terrorists in the region and a known killer.”
Dulmatin is known to have trained in Afghanistan and had ties to an Islamic school founded by Abu Bakar Bashir, the man alleged to be JI’s spiritual leader. He was also considered to be an expert bombmaker, and the US had placed a $10 million price tag on his head, according to the State Department’s Rewards for Justice website.
US President Barack Obama is scheduled to visit Indonesia March 20, and much has been made here about the possibility of enhanced military ties between the two allies. Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who is on a state visit to Australia, responded to news of Dulmatin’s death by calling for continued cooperation in the fight against terrorism.