"We are still hunting for Santoso and his gang members. They have now separated into three splinter groups. We hope the search would be completed soon," Panjaitan stated here on Tuesday.
The minister noted that the government was not in a position to given a deadline for the completion of Operation Tinombala.
"We cannot ascertain the time to hunt down the terrorist. However, we want to finish the operation soon," the minister remarked.
Earlier, Chief of the Indonesian Counter-Terrorism Agency (BNPT) Tito Karnavian stated that the Santoso-led group had become weak as it had now been cornered and lost several of its members.
"Over the past two weeks, more than 10 people have been arrested or have died during shootouts," Karnavian noted here on Monday.
The gang now only has 29 members, down from 41 people previously.
Only two Chinese Uighurs are now part of the group in Poso as four others were killed in shootouts with Indonesian security officers.
The remaining 29 people got separated following the gunfight yesterday, he pointed out.
"However, they continue to operate in areas around Poso and Napu," the former Jakarta police chief remarked.
Some three thousand police and military officers, who are part of Operation Tinombala, have been hunting for Santoso and his gang members since early January 2016.
The search has been hindered by the difficult and dangerous terrain of the mountainous areas of Poso, which are covered by dense forests.
He described the hunt as "something akin to looking for a needle in a haystack."
"This morning, I have just come back from there. After discussing the situation with the field commanders, I think it is just a matter of time now as they have been cornered, their logistics have run out, and all they have left with are some six weapons," he revealed.
Karnavian added that the operation will last until May, though he could not forecast when Santoso and his members would be arrested.(*)