Indonesia’s anti-terror campaign under fire after police gun down top suspects

By Irwan Firdaus, AP
Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Indonesia’s anti-terror campaign under fire

JAKARTA, Indonesia — The anti-terror squad hurtled from a white van on a bustling street as their quarry — three terror suspects — stepped out of a taxi.

They shoved one to the ground and when he tried to shake free, shot him in the head. Another died from a bullet to the chest. The third was led away, his hands tied behind his back and his shirt covered in blood, only to turn up dead hours later.

That’s not unusual in Indonesia, where U.S.-trained forces at the core of the anti-terror fight have a startling kill-to-capture ratio: One suspect killed for every four arrested.

The deaths not only raise human rights concerns, but risk fueling Islamist propaganda and tarnishing what has been a highly praised campaign that has seen hundreds of suspects arrested and convicted. The killings also mean the suspects cannot be questioned and there is no chance to gather intelligence on their networks.

Indonesia was thrust into the front lines of the war on terror in 2002, when al-Qaida-linked nightclub bombings on the resort island of Bali killed 202 people, many of them tourists. There have been several attacks on Western targets since then, but all have been far less deadly — and the most recent was a year ago.

The country’s elite Detachment 88 anti-terror unit has received much of the credit.

Named for the 88 Australians killed in the Bali bombings, the force has been at the forefront of the fight against terror. Its officers have taken on suspects holed up in houses booby-trapped with explosives. Other wanted men have been heavily armed, wearing suicide vests as they fired or threw shrapnel bombs from their hideouts.

However, witnesses of the May 12 operation in east Jakarta told The Associated Press that none of the three suspects appeared to carry a weapon or to put up much resistance.

Police deny that, saying they were armed and dangerous.

Authorities have identified only one of the suspects: Maulana, who was shot in the chest, was accused of involvement in a jihadi training camp in Aceh province and a failed plot on Indonesia’s deputy house speaker, said National Police Chief Gen. Bambang Hendarso Danuri.

The other two men remain unidentified — and, it now appears, may have been implicated simply because they were riding with Maulana in the taxi. Police claim they were linked to the Aceh cell as well.

Dina, a 33-year-old cigarette vendor, said she watched as a police officer pounced on one of the men, who was wearing jeans and a striped T-shirt. When he tried to break free, another officer raised his gun and shot a single bullet into the suspect’s head. He died in front of her, blood gushing from the wound.

“It was horrible,” she said. “The sounds coming from his mouth reminded me of a goat being slaughtered.”

Anti-terror police grabbed another man and, when he tried to get away, smashed a rock into his face, said Edi Suyatno, a bus conductor. The officers tied the suspect’s hands behind his back with a black rope and threw him into the van, he and other witnesses told the AP.

“He was bleeding heavily … but he was alive when he left here,” Suyatno said.

Police later said that man, too, had been killed by a bullet wound sustained during the raid.

The two unidentified men were buried last week in a cemetery that is often used by the government for the homeless and other nameless victims, with simple stones marking their graves.

The only people in attendance were a few Muslim activists, who said the men deserved a proper Islamic burial. Maulana’s body was returned to his village.

Munarman, a lawyer who often represents militants and is publicly sympathetic to their cause, questioned the police methods, especially when it came to the two unidentified men. He expressed outrage, saying a human rights tribunal should be set up to investigate “extra judicial killings.”

“Police didn’t even know their names!” he said. “These guys shot to kill. If they were worried, why didn’t they just immobilize them, shoot them in the leg or shoulder?”

All major terror strikes in Indonesia since the 2002 Bali bombings have been blamed on a violent splinter group of Jemaah Islamiyah that was headed by Noordin Mohammad Top. He was shot dead in a Detachment 88 operation in September.

But no recent attack compared in scale to the Bali attacks, prompting diplomats, analysts and authorities to declare the fight against terrorism a success.

The arrests and convictions of suspects helped convince the public that Islamic militants were behind the violence.

Just as experts were saying Indonesia’s threat level was significantly reduced, however, Detachment 88 discovered a previously unknown group in Aceh.

When black-clad forces raided a training camp in February in a barrage of gunfire that left three officers dead, they found a huge cache of M-16s, revolvers and thousands of rounds of ammunition. Investigations revealed the militants had been plotting a Mumbai-style terrorist attack and high-profile assassinations.

Many of the 84 suspects captured and 21 killed in the last year were linked to the Aceh group.

“In every case, when you kill someone, you lose valuable information,” said Sidney Jones, an expert on Southeast Asian extremists.

She noted that Dulmatin, the region’s most-wanted suspect before he was shot dead in a Jakarta Internet cafe three months ago, held key information about funding, training and cross-border links.

Photos taken of the 39-year-old bomb-making expert after the siege showed Dulmatin slumped over a computer with a pistol in his lap, prompting some critics to say he could have been taken alive by Detachment 88.

“There needs to be, at the very least, an internal review by the police of each case to determine if the threat justifies the shooting,” Jones said.

Indonesia’s security forces were accused of mass killings and widespread abuses during ex-dictator Suharto’s 32-year reign. In 2005 the United States agreed to lift a trade embargo imposed over concerns about military human rights violations — partially to reward Indonesia’s efforts to fight terrorism.

A government official who helps oversee the country’s terror fight insisted there is no shoot-to-kill policy, as some Muslim activists have suggested.

“It is very difficult to take someone who could possibly be carrying an explosive vest and give him, as in the U.S., the Miranda rights,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the media.

Still, he acknowledged that officers need more training in non-lethal methods. “But the money just isn’t there.”

Brig. Gen. Zainuri Lubis, deputy national police spokesman, said troops only use deadly force when there is no other option.

“We can’t take any risks,” he said. “When they fight us, we have to take action.”

Associated Press Writer Robin McDowell in Jakarta contributed to this report.

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