Terrorists Remain at Large After Indonesian JailbreakJuly 16, 2013 in Indonesia
Between 50 – 100 criminals, including notorious jihadist terrorist Fadli Sadama, remain at large following a devastating riot and subsequent jailbreak in Indonesia on Thursday night. A huge manhunt involving the police and military is currently on-going throughout the province of North Sumatra; however there are indications many prisoners may have successfully avoided detection and escaped to other neighbouring provinces. While the direct threat from this incident to foreign visitors or shipping in Indonesia is likely still low, major disruption is to be expected in light of the authorities’ manhunt, particularly in North Sumatra province.
The riot began on Thursday evening at the maximum security Tanjung Gusta prison in Medan, the capital city of North Sumatra province and close to the busy shipping port of Belawan. The riot reportedly began after a power cut disabled water and electricity supplies to the prison on Thursday morning. The prisoners began a protest which escalated into violence throughout the day. Breaking out of their cells, the prisoners proceeded to set fire to numerous parts of the prison, steal guns and take around 15 prison officers hostage. A stand-off with police and the military ensued, while the blaze killed 2 prison staff. 3 prisoners also died in the rioting, before the Indonesian military was allowed to enter and re-establish control peacefully.
In the chaos however, over 200 prisoners reportedly made good their escape from the prison. Authorities moved quickly, establishing road blocks and beginning a huge province-wide manhunt with over 1000 troops. This led to the rapid recapturing of many prisoners; however as of writing it is believed around half of the escapees remain at large. Some were recaptured in neighbouring provinces, showing they managed to successfully circumvent the authorities within North Sumatra and suggesting others may now be at large in other provinces of Indonesia.
There is no indication currently that the riot or subsequent jailbreak was planned or facilitated from the outside. Instead, it appears that massive overcrowding is likely the primary cause – despite its maximum security status and capacity of 1050, Tanjung Gusta was holding nearly 2500 prisoners at the time of the riot, over double capacity. Prisons in Indonesia are routinely overcrowded, with estimates suggesting the penal system is currently running at least at 150% capacity and with money earmarked for improvements routinely embezzled by corrupt officials. Prison riots are common, with Indonesia having seen at least 7 major riots in the past decade, including a prior one at Tanjung Gusta in 2003.
Of particular concern is that 11 individuals convicted of terrorism offences were among the escapees. While some have been recaptured, up to 6 remain at large. This includes Fadli Sadama, a notorious jihadist terrorist. Sadama has been imprisoned since 2010, when he was arrested in Malaysia attempting to smuggle arms back into Indonesia in preparation for attacks on tourists. Sadama is an extreme hard liner and repeat offender, who was also imprisoned from 2003 – 2010 after the 2003 Marriot hotel bombing in Jakarta. Other terrorists currently on the run include some who have undergone militant training in Aceh province. Authorities currently suspect some of the men may attempt to slip into Malaysia. It is also possible they may head north for Aceh, the site of a bloody Islamist insurgency for several decades and a region that, while now broadly peaceful, continues to have some problems with militants.