Indonesian Anti-Terror Squad Criticized for Deaths

By Chris Brummitt and Niniek Karmini 7 January 2013

JAKARTA—Indonesia’s US-funded police anti-terror squad has killed seven suspected militants recently, reviving allegations that the force is not trying to take suspects alive—a trend that appears to be fueling the very extremism the predominantly Muslim country is trying to counter.

Police spokesman Brig Gen Boy Rafli Amar said on Sunday that no shots were fired against officers during three related raids on Friday and Saturday in eastern Indonesia, but that the suspects in at least one of the locations had explosives that were “ready” to be detonated. He said that officers from the anti-terror squad, known as Densus 88, had followed procedures because the suspects were endangering their lives, but gave few details.

Haris Azhar, chairman of the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence, an independent human rights group, said it appeared that the suspected militants were victims of “extrajudicial killings” and called for an independent investigation. He said Densus 88’s tactics were driving militancy because they added to feelings among some Muslims that they were under siege.

“I’m worried about the deteriorating public sympathy for police who continue to use violence,” he said, alleging that some suspects in the past have been shot in front of their children. “There has never been any evaluation of Densus’ actions. It seems the police brutality has contributed to the growing of terrorism.”

Indonesia has struggled against militants seeking a Muslim state since its independence from Dutch colonial rule in 1945.

In the 1990s and early 2000s, some of the militants came under the influence of al-Qaida while waging jihad in Afghanistan. On their return to Indonesia, they carried out four major bombings against foreign targets between 2002 and 2009.

Densus 88 was established after the first of those attacks—the 2002 bombings on the resort island of Bali that killed 202 people, mostly foreign tourists—with American and Australian financial and technical assistance, which it still receives.

It has been instrumental in the arrests of hundreds of militants over the last ten years and is credited with reducing the threat of further attacks on Western interests in the country. Small groups of militants, however, have continued to attack police officers and Christians.

Since the squad’s establishment, Densus officers have killed more than 70 suspects. Like in other countries, some Indonesian militants have blown themselves up when police officers have approached them and show a willingness to go down fighting, making apprehending them especially dangerous. Police figures show that militants killed 10 officers in 2012 around the country.

“They are different to conventional criminals,” Amar said. “We can’t take any risks because they will show no hesitation to kill law enforcers.”

Taufik Andrie, research director for the Institute for International Peace Building, said it appeared that police officers hunting down militants suspected of being involved in the murder of their colleagues were not interested in taking prisoners.

“It is a cycle of violence, with each side looking for revenge,” Andrie said. “There is a suspicion that some policemen are of the mind that the best kind of de-radicalization is through killing people.”

Indonesia has won praise for arresting and convicting terrorists through its legal system. It executed three militants convicted in the Bali bombings and sentenced many others to long prison sentences. But there has been a high level of recidivism, and the country’s counter-extremism and de-radicalization programs have been patchily carried out with limited success.

The way in which the killings by Densus 88 are used to rally support for extremism was on display Sunday at a public meeting of radicals in Jakarta, Indonesia’s capital. While those present didn’t need fresh reasons to despise or distrust the state, speakers held up the killings of the seven suspects as just the latest example of police brutality.

“Oh, Allah, they have killed your servants, so destroy them,” said Son Hadi, from Jama’ah Ansharut Tauhid, a radical group whose members have been accused of supporting terrorism but remain free to organize. “Beware of this war on Islam.”