Islamic State had different mission for him: Mindanao
PURWOREJO KLAMPOK, Indonesia — The quiet young Indonesian aircraft mechanic dashed out of his relatives’ home in a hurry in February and disappeared.
The next time his anxious family would get word of him would be three months later, on the television news.
The authorities announced that the mechanic, Yoki Pratama Windyarto, 21, was one of seven Indonesians who had joined the Islamic State (IS) group and gone to the Philippines to fight on the island of Mindanao.
His family had not even known that he had a passport.
And then another shock: Weeks later, his mother, Sri Eny Windarti, received an anonymous call saying that her son had been martyred, and got a text message with a picture of him lying dead on the battlefield, a pool of blood under his head.
“What caused him to go there is a big question for us,” she said. “We have no idea what happened to him.”
30 foreign fighters
Windyarto was one of about 30 foreign fighters recruited by IS operatives to join the battle against the Philippine government in the city of Marawi, officials say.
That fight, which has been raging for months, has become the most intense military campaign that IS has supported outside Syria and Iraq.
The terrorists fighting in Marawi opposed the government long before they announced loyalty to the IS, also known as Isis (for Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) or Isil (for Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant).
But in addition to the propaganda value of linking themselves to the terrorist group, recent evidence suggests that they have received financing and other assistance from the IS command.
Among those helping to recruit foreign fighters have been Indonesians who went to Syria, joined IS and rose to leadership positions, according to Sidney Jones, the director of the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict, a research organization in Jakarta.
Another who has taken a leading role in recruitment for the group is a former law lecturer from Malaysia who is part of the inner circle of terrorist leaders in Marawi, the authorities say.
‘Big party’ in May
Once Windyarto arrived in the Philippines, he was told to recruit his jihadist friends to come to Mindanao for a “big party” in May.
“The Marawi operations received direct funding from Isis central and reveal a chain of command that runs from Syria through the Philippines to Indonesia and beyond,” said a recent report by the institute.
The siege of Marawi began on May 23, when Philippine troops tried to arrest Isnilon Hapilon, the IS leader in Southeast Asia, and stumbled upon hundreds of militants massing for an assault.
In Manila, Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla, a spokesperson for the Armed Forces of the Philippines, said that most of the foreign fighters had come from neighboring Indonesia and Malaysia.
Fighters from Arab countries and Bangladesh are believed to be among them, he said, but their sightings are unconfirmed.
“There have been a number of foreign fighters who made their way here under the guise of humanitarian workers,” Padilla said. “Some come through the back door. It’s a very porous border.”
Most prominent foreigner
Today, the most prominent foreigner among the militants in the Philippines is Mahmud Ahmad, a Malaysian and onetime Islamic law lecturer who fled to Mindanao in 2014.
A seized video of a strategy meeting before the battle shows Mahmud in the militants’ inner circle with Hapilon, Maute and Maute’s brother Abdullah, a fellow leader of the Maute group.
The former lecturer is known among the militants there as Doctor Mahmud.
“Dr. Mahmud appears to be senior to anyone operating in Indonesia, meaning whatever the intergroup frictions, all recognize a chain of command within the Isis hierarchy that they are obliged to obey by virtue of their oath,” the report says.
Among those Mahmud helped bring to Marawi was Windyarto.
The young aircraft mechanic grew up in a mostly Muslim neighborhood in the central Java town of Purworejo Klampok, a tolerant community about 400 kilometers east of Jakarta.
The family is doing well by local standards: His mother is an English teacher, his father a town official.
A few years ago, Windyarto was accepted into a university. But his parents said the cost was too high and sent him to Indonesia Aviation School, a strict boarding school in the city of Tangerang, west of Jakarta.
He began studying aviation maintenance there in 2013.
Jones, a leading expert on terrorism in Southeast Asia, said evidence indicated that Windyarto had been recruited by Islamists in person after he was allowed to leave campus.
By 2015, he had joined a little-known Islamist network called Al Hawariyun, or “The Helpers,” and took part in military training outside Jakarta, according to her institute’s report.
Soon after, Windyarto began making plans to go to Syria along with another member, Anggara Suprayogi, whose wife worked as a maid in Hong Kong and was part of a radical cell of domestic workers there, Jones said.
More than 500 Indonesians have joined IS in Syria, including families with children, Jones said.
Go to Mindanao
But when the two militants contacted Indonesian operatives with the IS in Syria, they were urged to go to Mindanao instead and told to contact Mahmud, the report says.
Then, on Feb. 27, Windyarto made a quick visit to the house in Bekasi when only his aunt was home, retrieving a flash data drive before rushing off.
He never spoke with a family member again.
On March 20, his parents, suspecting that he might have run off to join militants, filed a missing person’s report and asked the police to block him from leaving the country.
Even so, they said they were shocked on May 31, when the Indonesian police announced on national television that their son and six other Indonesians were wanted for involvement in IS terrorism in Marawi.
The phone call that Windyarto’s mother dreaded came on June 20. A man speaking English told her that her son had become a “shahid”—a martyr.
He texted her the picture of her son’s body lying on the ground.
Family members cling to the hope that Windyarto may somehow be alive, perhaps having faked his death to escape. But there have been few answers.
“If we use our normal logic, it doesn’t make sense,” his uncle, Anto Kuswanto, said in Bekasi. “We educated him to be a good guy. He had never even been in an airplane.” New York Times News Service
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