Bali Bombing

Elite Indonesian police unit under fire over torture, unlawful killings

Tactics of police anti-terror group in Indonesia questioned amid claims of torture and unlawful killing that critics say provoke revenge attacks

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 30 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 30 March, 2013, 2:41am


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An elite police unit on the front line of Indonesia's lauded terrorism crackdown is raising concerns that it is instead fuelling the jihadist cause, as it faces allegations of torture and unlawful killings.

Detachment 88 was established after the 2002 bombings on Bali that killed 202 people, including 11 Hong Kong residents. It gained strong public support after claiming the scalps of some of the region's most-wanted extremists.

But last month a six-year-old video emerged in which officers from the anti-terror unit interrogated a suspect writhing in pain after he had been shot in the chest and forced to strip to his underwear. "Why did you shoot me? I surrendered," he screams, as police repeatedly yell back that he ask Allah for forgiveness. "You're going to die," they say, trampling on three other suspects, shooting into the ground to intimidate them.

The suspect who was shot in the video, Rahman Kalahe, survived the incident and was sentenced to 19 years' jail over his role in the beheading of three Christian schoolgirls and the murder of a priest in Poso, central Sulawesi.

However, the footage prompted the National Human Rights Commission to reopen its investigation into the 2007 raid, while Islamic groups and politicians have made calls to disband Detachment 88.

Detachment 88 has used torture, killings and intimidation, but they are never held accountable

"Detachment 88 has used torture, killings and intimidation, but they are never held accountable. The unit must be dissolved," said Din Syammsuddin, chairman of the nation's second-largest Muslim organisation, Muhammadiyah, who took the video to police.

The government insists that its security forces have "great respect for human rights".

"There are standard operating procedures in the handling of terrorism. It is not true that Detachment 88 employs a shoot-to-kill approach," said presidential spokesman Julian Aldrin Pasha.

"Any actions contrary to the law, including human rights law, will be processed. Without exception for anyone. This country upholds and enforces the rule of law," he said.

Detachment 88, which gets funding and training from the United States and Australia, has been successful in quelling the kind of militant attacks on civilian targets that rocked Indonesia in the past decade.

Indonesia's battle with terror is now being fought almost entirely between militants and police, much of it in Poso district, where the videotaped raid took place.

This shift in the nature of terrorism in Indonesia has raised concerns that the unit's treatment of suspects is fuelling revenge attacks.

Since the establishment of Detachment 88, Indonesian police have killed at least 90 suspects in counterterrorism operations, the International Crisis Group reported.

But 50 of them have been killed since 2010, a year after the last major deadly attack in the nation.

"You can see why people get angry when the police start shooting people just because they have a copy of a book on jihad in their rooms," said Todd Elliot, Jakarta-based terrorism analyst with Concorde Consulting. "When we haven't seen a major attack in years and police are killing terror suspects every two months, you can understand why people are asking questions."

National Anti-Terror Agency chief Ansyaad Mbai denies the unit is trigger-happy, saying the deaths happen because terror suspects rarely surrender and are often armed. The numbers seem to support his argument - in the same period that 50 suspects were killed, 21 police were slain trying to make arrests or investigate extremist activity.

In October, two officers investigating an alleged terrorist camp in Poso were found dead and buried in a hole with their throats slit.

"Terrorism is an extraordinary crime that requires extraordinary operations," Mbai said.

"They don't respect Indonesians' rights, so why are we suddenly so concerned with theirs?" he said.