Indonesia’s US-funded police anti-terror squad 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 that the predominantly Muslim country is trying to counter.
Police spokesman Brigadier General Boy Rafli Amar on Sunday said no shots were fired against officers during three related raids on Friday and Saturday, but that the suspects in at least one of the locations had explosives “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.
Haris Azhar, chairman of independent rights group the Indonesian Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence, 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.
Indonesia has struggled against militants seeking a Muslim state since its independence from Dutch rule in 1945. In the 1990s and early 2000s, some of the militants came under the influence of al-Qaeda while waging jihad in Afghanistan and carried out four bombings against foreign targets in Indonesia between 2002 and 2009.
Densus 88 was established after the first of those attacks — the 2002 bombings on Bali that killed 202 people, mostly foreign tourists — with US and Australian financial and technical assistance, which it still receives. It has been instrumental in the arrests of hundreds of militants over the past 10 years and is credited with reducing the threat of attacks on Western interests in the country.
However, small groups of militants have continued to attack police officers and Christians. Since the squad’s establishment, Densus officers have killed more than 70 suspects. Police figures show that militants killed 10 officers last year.
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.
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. Yet there has been a high level of recidivism, and the country’s counter-extremism 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 on Sunday at a public meeting of radicals in Jakarta where speakers held up the recent killings as the latest example of police brutality.
“Oh, Allah, they have killed your servants, so destroy them,” said Son Hadi, from radical group Jama’ah Ansharut Tauhid. “Beware of this war on Islam.”