Indonesian police on Thursday arrested three men with suspected links to Islamic State as part of an operation in the province of Central Sulawesi to capture the country’s most-wanted man, state media reported.
The arrests came as the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta issued an “emergency message” for U.S. citizens warning of potential security threats at tourist beaches on the island of Lombok.
Counterterrorism officials believe there are at least 1,000 sympathizers of the IS terror group across Indonesia. More than a dozen men suspected of planning bomb attacks were arrested in a series of raids recently, and the hunt is on for their ringleaders.
“This morning my team just reported that they had captured three more people,” the Antara news agency quoted Central Sulawesi police chief Idham Azis as saying.
He gave no details of the arrests or the identities of the men, but said they are thought to be linked to terrorist leader Santoso, who has eluded capture for years and is holed up in jungles near Poso town in Central Sulawesi.
A National Police spokesman did not immediately respond to Reuters requests for comment on the Antara report.
Azis said a hunt for Santoso and about 30 of his followers would conclude on Jan. 9. He said seven suspected terrorists as well as two policemen and an army officer had been killed in the operation.
U.S. authorities on Wednesday noted arrests made by authorities in Turkey, Belgium and Indonesia in connection with suspected plots by Islamic State operatives or sympathizers to launch attacks over the civil new year period, and said they were monitoring investigations.
Analysts say that Santoso, the first Indonesian to publicly pledge loyalty to Islamic State, may be an inspiration for would-be terrorists returning from fighting with the group in Syria.
However, some believe there is a bigger threat closer to the capital, Jakarta, on the populous island of Java, where most of the recent arrests were made, and say terrorists could increasingly target Westerners.