JAKARTA, Indonesia -- Alleged members of an Islamic militant group shot a police officer to death in eastern Indonesia in the latest assault targeting security officials in the world's most populous Muslim country, police said Saturday.
Five gunmen ambushed and took hostage villagers and police officers who had just returned from Friday prayers at a small mosque near a police post in Central Sulawesi province's Salubanga village, said National Police spokesman Argo Yuwono.
He said the hostages managed to escape when the gunmen, believed to be members of the East Indonesia Mujahideen militant group, sneaked into the mosque's yard and opened fire at the officers and villagers, killing a police officer, and fled to a nearby forested area in Parigi Moutong district.
The attack occurred amid security operations that had been intensified in the past months in Poso, a neighboring mountainous district considered an extremist hotbed, to try to capture the rest of the group's members. The group still has some nine members after more than 30 were captured or killed in the past year. The group's leader, Abu Wardah Santoso, was killed in a shootout with security forces in 2016.
Yuwono said that although the strength of the extremist group was weakened after the death of Santoso, it remains dangerous under its current leader, Ali Kalora.
Indonesia, which is home to some 230 million Muslims, has carried out a sustained crackdown on Islamic militants since bombings on the tourist island of Bali in 2002 killed 202 people, mostly foreigners.
The Jemaah Islamiyah military network, which was blamed for the Bali attacks, was neutralized following the arrests of hundreds of its militants and leaders. But new threats have emerged in recent times from Islamic State group-inspired radicals who have targeted security forces and local "infidels" instead of Westerners.
Last month, a suicide bomber blew himself up at the Medan city police station, wounding at least six people. That attack came as Indonesia's counterterrorism force worked to root out suspected Islamic militants following the assault by a knife-wielding militant couple who wounded Indonesia's top security minister in October.