Sixteen Indonesian nationals have been arrested by Turkish authorities on suspicion of attempting to join Islamic State jihadists in neighboring Syria, officials said.
Eleven children, four woman and a man were reportedly detained in Gaziantep, close to the Turkish border town of Kilis this week. Indonesian Foreign MInister Retno Marsudi announced Thursday that the group was likely intending to make it over the border and that an Indonesian team would be dispatched to assist in the investigation. "We have obtained information that they were indeed trying to cross into Syria," she said, according to Reuters.
Security Minister Tedjo Edhy Purdijatno told reporters that the 16 obviously wished to join Islamic State. "We are still investigating... but it is clear that they wanted to join (IS) to have a better life in accordance with Islamic sharia laws," he said, in remarks quoted by AFP.
Sixteen other Indonesians absconded from a Turkish tour group in February and are still missing. Initial reports suggested that they too may have been trying to reach Syria.
Indonesia is the world's most populous Muslim country and has had longstanding problems with extremism. Radical militants have launched a number of attacks there, including the 2002 Bali nightclub bombing that killed 202 people.
Authorities subsequently launched an apparently successful crackdown on militant groups. Now, however, a growing number of Indonesians are traveling to Iraq or Syria to join the Islamic State. Officials say at least 300 are known to have made the journey, prompting fears that returnees might commit terror acts at home.
The rise of the Islamic State has led to an influx of foreign fighters. Many have come from neighboring Arab states as well as Europe, but others traveled from further afield, including an Australian teenager who was reported to have blown himself up in a suicide attack this week.
Chinese authorities said on Tuesday that some of its Uighur Muslim ethnic minority have also joined the group. Officials in western Xinjiang, close to the Afghanistan and Pakistan borders added that they would target extremism and terrorist cells, the Associated Press said. "There are Uighurs that have fled overseas and joined the Islamic State," Xingjiang Communist Party secretary Zhang Chunxian commented. "The organization has a huge international influence and Xinjiang can't keep aloof from it and we have already been affected. We have also found that some who fought returned to Xinjiang to participate in terrorist plots."
A state-run newspaper said late last year that around 300 Chinese citizens had joined the Islamic State.
In Malaysia, which shares land borders with Indonesia, authorities have identified more than 30 citizens who have traveled to Iraq or Syria and arrested 40 more suspected of links with militant groups or attempting to join the Islamic State. Earlier this month, two Malaysian men were identified in a video showing a Syrian man being beheaded, according to counter-terror officers.
Militants have even joined from the island nation of Maldives, an Indian Ocean archipelago and popular vacation spot known for its golden beaches.
Mohamed Nasheed, the former Maldivian prime minister, toldThe Independent in September that more than 200 islanders had joined the group. One reportedly died committing a suicide bomb attack in May last year. The Muslim faith is constitutionally mandatory in the Maldives, but extremism is on the rise and recent months have seen pro-Islamic State demonstrations and calls for the implementation of hardline sharia law. Critics say the government has offered tacit approval.
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