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Indonesia: Deadly Military Copter Crash Not Terror-Related

by Yoanes Litha March 21, 2016

The death toll from an Indonesian military helicopter crash rose to 13 on Monday, the military said, with the discovery of the body of a missing soldier.

The helicopter was on a mission Sunday to capture the country's most wanted militant when it crashed and burst into flames over a village in Central Poso.

The Bell 412-EP helicopter, one of two deployed in a special mission to hunt down the Santoso terrorist group, was carrying 13 soldiers and crew when it went down about 35 minutes after taking off from Poso district's Watutau village, said Maj. Gen. Agus Surya Bakti, the regional military chief overseeing South and Central Sulawesi provinces.

Twelve bodies were found Sunday, and military spokesman Maj. Gen. Tatang Sulaiman said the 13th victim, a first lieutenant, was found in the wreckage early Monday.

"Because of the poor weather condition in Poso district, with dark clouds and wind on the way back to town, it was impossible for the helicopter to turn around," Poso Police Commissioner Ronny Suseno told VOA. "Maybe the plan was to land at Kasiguncu airport, but there were problems which caused the chopper to swerve and crash."

Suseno also said the possibility that the chopper was overloaded is being investigated.

Witness to crash

A 60-year-old farmer told VOA he saw the chopper going in circles over his house before diving suddenly among coconut trees.

"We saw the chopper, but we didn't hear it too clearly," said Hassan, describing the weather at the time of the crash as dark and cloudy. "We saw when it was circling over our house. A neighbor was wondering why the chopper was flying that low and then it nosedived – we heard a loud explosion and it disappeared."

One victim of the crash, Army Colonel Saiful Anwar, was a deputy commander of counterterror operations in Poso, where more than 2,500 security forces, including elite army troops, have intensified search efforts throughout the mountainous district, which is considered an extremist hotbed.

Anwar's troops had been aggressively pursuing Abu Wardah Santoso, Indonesia's most wanted militant and leader of the East Indonesia Mujahidin (EIM) network, which has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group.

"We want to get over this problem quickly, so that the people, especially those in Poso, can freely go out for farming, and go anywhere with no fear," Anwar told VOA on Friday, responding to complaints by locals who called run-ins with the terrorists a threat to their livelihood.

At least five members of the EIM network were killed by security forces this past week. Members of the group are thought to be hiding in Poso, where more than 1,000 people died in 2001 and 2002 in violence between Christians and Muslims.

Indonesia, a sprawling archipelago nation of about 250 million people, has been plagued by transportation accidents in recent years, including plane and train crashes and ferry sinkings.

This report was produced in collaboration with VOA's Indonesia Service. Some information is from AP.

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