World Bulletin / News Desk
National Police spokesperson Insp. Gen. Boy Rafli Amar claimed Wednesday that Santoso's number two Basri -- many Indonesians use only one name -- would assume leadership of the East Indonesia Mujahideen group, and "therefore he is now our main target".
"Basri is also an executor of extremist acts in Central Sulawesi last year, and once escaped from prison," metrotvnews.com quoted Amar as saying.
"He is dangerous," he underlined.
Since January, thousands of soldiers and police had been engaged in a task force in Poso, Central Sulawesi, to capture Santoso, whose group has pledged allegiance to ISIL.
On Monday, however, Santoso is suspected to have been killed in a gunfight, which police say broke out when two men among a group of five “suspicious” people exchanged gunfire with them in the mountains of Tambarana village in troubled Poso town.
Police have since said that they are 95 percent confident that one of the two men killed is Santoso due to shared physical characteristics, but will carry out DNA testing on his body
Amar said Wednesday that during Monday's gun battle, Basri fled with two women, suspected to be his wife and Santoso's wife.
"They are being sought by the team," Amar said, adding that police had previously suspected Basri had died in the shootout but had now realized that was not the case.
Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Luhut Binsar Pandjaitan, meanwhile, underlined the difficulties the group would now face in spreading its tentacles.
"I think it will certainly be more difficult [to develop new cells] due to pressure from the effective operations performed by army and police," Luhut was quoted as telling media at the Presidential Palace Complex, Jakarta
He urged the 19 remaining members of the group still hiding in the forests of Poso to surrender.
Police have been hunting Santoso for five years for masterminding the shooting of a police officer in the provincial capital Palu in 2011.
At the end of 2012, Santoso and another leading militant, Daeng Koro, declared the establishment of the East Indonesia Mujahideen, which has since been recruiting people from across Indonesia and providing military training in the Biru Mountains.
Since January, the task force's Operation Tinombala has besieged Santoso and his group, cutting off communication between them and their sympathizers and families, as well as disrupting their supply lines.
Police estimate that the number of members has dropped from more than 40, with some surrendering amid intensified pressure.
Since a Jan. 14 extremist attack in central Jakarta -- in which four civilians and four ISIL-affiliated assailants were killed -- the government had tightened security and focused its operation to catch Santoso.
In March, the United States included Santoso on its list of Specially Designated Global extremists.