Indonesia executes three militants
Indonesian police executed three Christian militants early Friday for leading attacks on Muslims six years ago that left at least 70 people dead, police and relatives said, as security forces braced for sectarian violence.
The men were taken before a firing squad at 12：15 a.m., said a senior police officer who asked not to be identified because he wasn't authorized to speak to the media. Family members later said they had received confirmation of their deaths.
The case against the men has heightened tensions in the world's most populous Muslim nation and raised questions about the role religion played in punishing those allegedly behind the violence that swept Sulawesi province from 1998 to 2002, killing more than 1,000 people of both religions.
Only a handful of Muslims were convicted in the violence, the harshest penalty being 15 years in jail.
The executions came despite an appeal by Pope Benedict XVI last month to spare the men. A Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, told the Italian news agency ANSA it was “sad and painful” to hear the slayings had gone ahead.
Fabianus Tibo, 60, Marinus Riwu, 48, and Dominggus da Silva, 42, were found guilty of leading a Christian militia that launched a series of attacks in May 2000 —— including an assault on an Islamic school that killed at least 70 people seeking shelter. Muslim groups put the toll at 191.
The men claim they were victims of an unfair trial and said Thursday that while they were ready to die they hoped investigations into the clashes would continue. They said they had provided authorities with the names of 16 Christians who allegedly instigated some of the worst bloodshed.
The government says, however, its probe is complete.
“I've been told by police that my father was killed,” Tibo's son, Robert, said early Friday. “But it's useless for me to say anything now. The government never listened to him when he was alive. They ignored everything.”
Trial a 'sham'
Human rights activists say the men's 2001 trial was a sham and that while it's possible they took part in some of the violence, they almost certainly were not the masterminds.
Others noted that crowds of Muslim hardliners gathered at the court during the hearings —— which occurred when religious tensions were at a high —— likely intimidating judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys and witnesses. Some threw rocks at the building ahead of the verdict.
The executions come amid an outcry in many Muslim nations about comments made by the Pope on Islam.
Benedict last week cited the words of a Byzantine emperor who characterized some of the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad as “evil and inhuman.” He has since said he was “deeply sorry” about the reactions to his remarks and that they did not reflect his own opinion.
Thousands of Muslims and Christians have rallied in recent weeks, demanding or opposing the planned executions following two last minute stays, the most recent in August.
Fearing violence, Indonesia deployed more than 2,000 police and soldiers in Palu, some guarding churches that dot the city. Security was also stepped up on the island of Flores, where the three men were born, said Lt. Col. Endang Syafrudin, the island's police chief.
Access to the prison was cut off late Thursday, with security forces blocking cars and motorcycles on surrounding roads.
Tibo, Riwu and da Silva discussed their final wishes with relatives, lawyers and their priest —— from giving a message to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, to having relatives and spiritual advisers accompany them when they are led to their deaths.
The government rejected all of their requests, the men's lawyer Roy Rening later told reporters.
Their priest, the Rev. Jimmy Tumbelaka, warned that the decision could further stoke tensions.
“It is not good,” he said. “I'm afraid this will only make people angrier.”
Indonesia is a secular nation with the world's largest number of Muslims, about 190 million. In Sulawesi and several other eastern regions, Christian and Muslim populations are roughly equal.
Though violence in Sulawesi largely ended with the signing of a peace deal in 2002, there have been isolated incidents of violence since then, most blamed on Islamic militants.
Rinaldy Damanik, the head of the Central Sulawesi assembly of churches, called on Christians to stay calm.
“My worry is there will be another bombing or shootings” timed to the executions, he said. “If that happens, then I fear the masses will be uncontrollable.”