Indonesia jails three Chinese Uighurs for trying to join Islamist militants

JAKARTA (Reuters) - An Indonesian court sentenced three men from China’s Uighur Muslim minority on Monday to six years in prison for conspiring with militant Islamists in Indonesia, a police spokesman said.

The men were arrested late last year near the restive region of Poso on Sulawesi island while allegedly trying to meet a militant who is on Indonesia’s most-wanted list.

“They admitted that they intended to meet Santoso,” said national police spokesman Anton Charliyan, referring to the leader of one of the few remaining radical Islamist groups in Indonesia.

The men had been found using Turkish passports. The court found them guilty of violating anti-terrorism and immigration laws.

The lawyer for the three said they would consider appealing against the sentence, according to media reports.

A fourth Uighur man who was arrested with them is being tried separately and is due to be sentenced on July 29.

Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Uighurs keen to escape unrest in their far western Chinese homeland of Xinjiang have traveled clandestinely via Southeast Asia to Turkey. China says they often end up crossing into Syria and Iraq to fight for Islamic State (IS) militants.

Thailand last week deported 109 Uighurs, sparking concerns among human rights groups that they could be mistreated when back in China.

Indonesia, which has the world’s largest Muslim population, has largely stamped out militancy after a series of attacks by a small number of Islamists in the early 2000s.

But security forces have raised concerns recently about a resurgence in homegrown radicalism inspired by the hardline ideology of Islamic State, which has seized swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria over the past year or so.

Officials say up to 500 Indonesians have traveled to Syria to join the ranks of IS, but some experts believe the number could be higher.

The Indonesian government has banned public pledges of allegiance to IS, blocked radical websites and threatened to revoke the citizenship of those attempting to travel to Syria.

Reporting by Kanupriya Kapoor; Editing by Gareth Jones