JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — An Indonesian militant shown killing a foreigner in a 2016 Islamic State group video was killed last month in a battle with U.S.-backed forces in Syria, Indonesian police and a family member said Monday.
National police spokesman Dedi Prasetyo said Muhammad Saifuddin, who used the aliases Abu Walid and Mohammed Karim Yusop Faiz, was killed on Jan. 29 in eastern Deir Ezzor province where an international coalition is trying to defeat remaining pockets of IS group extremists.
"He was killed by shrapnel from a Syrian forces tank in the battle," Prasetyo told The Associated Press.
Saifuddin's older brother, Muinudinillah Basri, said the family learned about the death through an instant messaging app. "There was a photo of his body and I can recognize it," he said.
Saifuddin was a recruitment tool for IS and appeared in several videos on radical websites. They included a 2016 video that showed him along with two other militants from Malaysia and the Philippines killing three foreigners, including Japanese journalist Kenji Goto, who were dressed in orange jumpsuits and forced to kneel before being slain.
The U.S. in August designated Saifuddin and the two other killers in the IS video, Malaysian Mohammad Rafi Udin and Filipino Mohammed Reza Lahaman Kiram, as global terrorists.
Basri said the family hadn't heard from Saifuddin since he left Indonesia to join IS in Syria with his wife and children about four years ago.
They believed he was originally radicalized by a Christian-Muslim conflict in Indonesia's Ambon region from 1999 to 2001 along with his twin brother, who died in the conflict.
One of Saifuddin's Indonesian friends, convicted militant Sofyan Tsauri, said that in radical circles Saifuddin was perceived as trusted by IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as a leader of Southeast Asian Islamic militants.
Tsauri, a former member of the al-Qaida-affiliated network responsible for the 2002 Bali bombings who now collaborates with Indonesia's counterterrorism agency, said Saifuddin fled to the southern Philippines shortly after the Bali bombings with two other senior Indonesian militants.
He was arrested in the Philippines while attempting to return to Indonesia with weapons and explosives and sentenced to nine years in prison in 2007.
After marrying the widow of an Indonesian suicide bomber following his early release in 2013, Saifuddin sank below the radar of authorities but reappeared several years later in an IS propaganda video that urged Indonesian Muslims to oppose the government and join violent jihad in Syria or the southern Philippines.
"Since long ago he had aspired to go international," Tsauri said. "He had a convincing track record that gained trust and an important position in IS."
In a news conference on Monday, Prasetyo said police early last month arrested an Indonesian militant, Harry Kuncoro, at Jakarta's international airport, thwarting his plan to travel to Syria via Iran with Saifuddin's help.
Prasetyo said Kuncoro, who was sentenced to nine years in prison in 2012 for harboring Bali bomber Umar Patek and illegally possessing weapons, used the Telegram instant messaging app to communicate with Saifuddin after being paroled last year.
Saifuddin sent Kuncoro $2,100 for traveling to Syria, advised him to travel via Iran's Khorasan province and gave him contact numbers for Indonesian militants living in Khorasan, Prasetyo said. He had obtained a passport using a fake national identity card.