JAKARTA, Indonesia -- Indonesian police said Monday they have arrested 11 suspected Islamic militants accused of plotting attacks at several Christian churches in easternmost Papua province.
On Friday, the elite counterterrorism squad arrested 10 suspects in several raids in Papua’s Merauke district after receiving information about planned attacks in the province, a predominantly Christian region in Muslim-majority Indonesia, Merauke police chief Untung Sangaji said.
The arrests led police to another suspect who was detained Sunday, and led them to seize items from various locations including chemicals for explosives, modified air guns able to fire real bullets, jihadist books and documents on planned attacks, he said.
Sangaji said those arrested are suspected of being members of Jemaah Anshorut Daulah, which has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group and carried out a series of suicide bombings in Indonesia.
“They allegedly planned to attack churches in several places in Merauke,” Sangaji said. He declined to provide more details, saying that the investigation is still underway.
He said some of the suspects are believed to have links to a suicide attack outside a Roman Catholic cathedral during Palm Sunday Mass in March in Makassar, the capital of South Sulawesi, that wounded 20 people.
Arrests of suspected Islamic militants are rare in Papua, a former Dutch colony in the western part of New Guinea that is ethnically and culturally distinct from much of Indonesia. It was incorporated into Indonesia in 1969 after a U.N.-sponsored ballot that was seen as a sham by many.
In late 2019, police arrested seven suspected militants in Jayapura, the capital of Papua province, who had fled from a counterterrorism crackdown on other Indonesian islands.
Indonesia’s last major militant attack was in May 2018, when two families carried out suicide bombings on churches in Surabaya, killing a dozen people including two young girls whose parents involved them in one of the attacks. Police said the father was the leader of a local affiliate of Jemaah Anshorut Daulah.
Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, has carried out a sustained crackdown on Islamic militants since bombings on the tourist island of Bali in 2002 killed 202 people, mostly foreigners.
New threats have emerged in recent years from Islamic State group-inspired radicals who have targeted security forces and local “infidels” instead of Westerners.