Dozens of radical Islamists holed up in a school suspected of being a bomb factory melted away yesterday as security forces moved in to end a three-day armed standoff, police said.
Police and soldiers surrounded the school in Bima town, West Nusa Tenggara Province, after a bomb blast there on Monday killed a suspected terrorist.
Students and teachers armed with knives and swords prevented them from investigating the blast, leading to a tense standoff that ended peacefully when the defenders mysteriously disappeared.
National police spokesman Anton Bachrul Alam said more bombs were found in the complex when police finally gained access.
“When we entered the school, we found several bombs that had been disposed of,” he said.
“There was nobody there. We suspect they ran away to the mountains,” Alam said, without explaining how the 200 police and troops posted around the school failed to notice the suspects escaping.
Police earlier said the boarding school was linked to radical cleric Abu Bakar Bashir, who was jailed for 15 years last month for funding a terrorist group that was planning attacks against Westerners and political leaders.
Local media quoted police as saying the unidentified man killed in the blast was suspected of instructing students on how to make bombs when one of the devices exploded.
Provincial police spokesman Sukarman Husein told reporters earlier yesterday police were -trying to persuade the students to cooperate.
“If persuasion doesn’t work we’ll have to enter the school with full force some time later today,” he said.
Eight people were in custody in connection to the incident, he added.
There was a brief clash between police and protesters near the school overnight on Tuesday when supporters of the students blocked a road. The crowd pelted police with stones and police opened fire, injuring one protester.
Indonesian Minister of Religious Affairs Suryadharma Ali, who is often criticized for failing to condemn radical Islamic extremist groups, said the police had to take strong action if the school was linked to militant radicals.
“If anyone related to the bomb blasts is found to be a member of a radical group, then the boarding school must be closed and the students must be re-guided,” the Jakarta Globe newspaper quoted Suryadharma as saying.
He said the school had resisted government attempts to moderate its teachings in the past.
Police were understood to be wary of triggering a violent Islamist backlash if they cracked down too heavily on the school, despite its apparent involvement in bomb-making and religious extremism.
One of the school’s leaders was reportedly arrested last year in connection with the terror group Bashir was convicted of funding.
A student called Saban Arohmah was arrested last month for killing a police officer with a sword slash to the neck, the Kompas news Web site reported.
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