Indonesian anti-terror police shot dead three people and arrested five others over a bank robbery in which heavily armed gunmen escaped with around 40,000 dollars, a spokesman said today.
Police spokesman Iskandar Hasan said the US-backed Detachment 88 counter-terrorism unit conducted the raids yesterday as part of an investigation into the bloody heist at CIMB bank in Medan, North Sumatra, last month. But he could not confirm that the suspects were involved in terrorist activities.
"It's true that at around 6:30 pm (1130 GMT) we arrested those suspected of of robbing CIMB Medan," Hasan said. "We're not able to say whether this is related to terrorism."
Motorcycles and weapons including at least one semi-automatic assault rifle were seized during the operations in Belawan and Tanjung Balai cities of North Sumatra province, he added.
Local media reported that the suspects engaged police in a gunfight but this could not immediately be confirmed. In the most spectacular of a series of recent heists, 16 gunmen armed with military-grade assault rifles attacked CIMB bank in Medan, in broad daylight on August 18.
Wearing motorcycle helmets and using hand signals to coordinate their movements, they killed a police officer and wounded two guards, showing a level of training and ruthlessness that raised suspicions about links to terrorism.
The involvement of the anti-terror squad in yesterday's raid indicates police believe the heist was the work of extremists trying to raise funds for new attacks in the mainly Muslim country.
Robberies have been a source of funds for Islamist militants in Indonesia in the past and police earlier said a recent spate of armed robberies could be linked to former rebels or terrorist groups, or both.
The hold-ups have also exposed a flourishing illegal trade in military-grade weapons in Indonesia, with the alleged involvement of corrupt police and military personnel.