Indonesian antiterrorist unit now ‘fueling jihad’


The elite police unit on the front line of Indonesia’s lauded terrorism clampdown faces fresh allegations of torture and unlawful killings, raising concerns it is fueling the jihadist cause.

Detachment 88, established after the 2002 bombings on Bali that killed 202 people, mostly Western tourists, has gained strong public support after claiming the scalps of some of the region’s most-wanted extremists.

But last month a video emerged in which officers from the antiterrorism 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,” the suspect screams as police repeatedly yell back that he had better ask Allah for forgiveness.

“You’re going to die,” they say while trampling on three other suspects, shooting into the ground to intimidate them.

The suspect in the video, Rahman Kalahe, survived the incident and was sentenced to 19 years in prison for his role in the beheading of three Christian schoolgirls and the murder of a priest.

However, the footage has prompted the National Human Rights Commission to reopen its investigation into the 2007 raid, while Islamic groups and members of Parliament have made calls to disband the force.

“Detachment 88 has used torture, killings and intimidation, but they are never held accountable. The unit must be dissolved,” said Din Syammsuddin, head of the nation’s second-largest Muslim organization, Muhammadiyah.

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.”

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 have rocked Indonesia over the past decade. Its battle with terror is now being fought almost entirely between militants and police, much of it in the Poso district — a known hotbed for militant activity on Sulawesi island, where the videotaped raid took place.