Report: Indonesian pilots may have been radicalized by ISIS
Authorities in Australia are concerned about the potential radicalization of two Indonesian commercial pilots, according to an intelligence report obtained by the news website The Intercept.
The report, marked Australian Federal Police (AFP), profiles two Indonesian pilots who “both appear to be influenced by pro (Islamic State) elements.” It details the social media behavior of the two men who the AFP believe posed potential security threats because of their knowledge of aviation and possible radicalization.
“It should raise a lot of concern for everybody,” said CNN aviation analyst Les Abend. “Commercial pilots have intimate knowledge of not only the airplane, but of security procedures and so on and so forth.”
According to the report, one pilot’s Facebook profile showed a history of employment with the Malaysian-based discount airline AirAsia starting in 2009, including flying on international routes. Facebook photos show him smiling in front of an AirAsia plane and with colleagues on the tarmac.
Then, in 2014, the report said he began to post content supportive of ISIS and to interact with others affiliated with ISIS and Indonesian terrorist groups. He likely changed his name on Facebook and on March 17 listed his current city as Raqqa, Syria, according to the report. The Facebook profile is no longer online.
It’s not clear if the pilot actually traveled to Syria, and CNN has not been able to independently verify the contents of the police report.
When contacted by CNN, AirAsia Indonesia said the pilot is no longer an employee and therefore the company was unable to comment further.
According to the federal police report, a second pilot began posting pro-ISIS material in December and went on to post material from “extremist-related” articles.
The Intercept article says he now posts on Facebook under a different name.
That Facebook profile is still active and the career history matches that listed in the report. The man lists previous employers as Premiair, an Indonesian air charter company and Garuda, the national carrier.
The Facebook user regularly posts ISIS propaganda and news reports alongside family photos and aviation news. On March 19, he reposted a photo of a man holding an ISIS flag with a quote in Bahasasa Indonesia calling for jihad. It began, “You become a mujahid. If you are not able. Be supportive of them.”
In February of this year, he posted about a trip to St. Louis for additional flight training.
“ISIS has specifically called for skilled professionals to join their self-declared caliphate,” a U.S. counterterrorism official told CNN.
However, there’s no evidence so far that the terrorist group actually recruited either of the pilots.
Contacted by text message, the second pilot declined to speak to CNN. But he has sent local media written messages denying any ties with ISIS.
“I have no links with ISIS, as they allege … Does liking someone’s status mean we are like them? There is no allegiance between me and ISIS to this date,” he told Indonesia’s Detik.com.
Indonesia’s National Police Chief General Badrodin Haiti said there is no evidence so far that the pilots were members of ISIS.
“The results of our investigation so far is that they are not directly involved, which means they are sympathizers, because they often post about ISIS on Facebook,” he told CNN. “They were suspected of being ISIS followers or members but actually they’re not. Based on our records of several networks, they’re not part of it.”
The federal police report is dated March 18. The Intercept reported it was sent to Australia’s law enforcement partners in Turkey, Jordan, London, the United States and the European Union.
The Australian Federal Police told CNN it does not comment on intelligence matters. In a statement, the police agency said it “maintains strong relationships with its domestic and foreign law enforcement partners to ensure the ongoing safety of Australians both within Australia and abroad.”
The AFP did not respond to questions about the veracity of the report.
The spokesman for Indonesia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs Arrmanatha Nasir said he had requested more information about the two pilots from Indonesia’s security authorities.
“We are in coordination to find out more about how this case can be verified,” he said.