By BosNewsLife News Center with BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos and Eric Leijenaar
JAKARTA, INDONESIA (BosNewsLife) -- An Islamic militant began serving a 20-year jail sentence Thursday, March 22, on charges of plotting the 2005 beheadings of three Christian girls on Indonesia's volatile Sulawesi island. Two other militants involved in the crime were sentenced to 14 years.
Judges from the Central Jakarta District Court said they had no doubt that 34-year old Hasanuddin, was the mastermind of the murders. "The defendant along with his accomplices has violated the anti-terrorism law," chief judge Binsar Siregar reportedly told the court on Wednesday, March 21.
The judges agreed to the prosecution's request for a 20-year sentence. Co-conspirators in the beheadings, Lilik Puromo, 28, and Irwanto Irano, 29, were sentenced to 14 years in jail by the same court, an hour later.
All were prosecuted under a law enacted weeks after members of the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) regional terrorist network bombed two tourist nightspots on the resort island of Bali in October 2002, killing 202 people.
KILLED NEAR SCHOOL
During the defendants' trials, an accomplice admitted taking part in the murders of the three girls - Alfita Poliwo, 17, Threresia Morangke and Yarni Sambue, both 15 - as they walked to school in late October 2005 in the town of Poso. He also testified that Hasanuddin masterminded as well as participated in the beheadings.
A fourth victim in the attack, Noviana Malewa, then 15, received serious injuries to her face and neck but survived. She has claimed that at least six men attacked the girls. After the murders, the girls' heads were wrapped in black plastic bags.
One was left on the steps of a church in nearby village, while two others were placed near a police station eight kilometers (5 miles) from Poso town. The bags reportedly contained a note stating in part, "We will murder 100 more Christian teenagers and their heads will be presented as presents."
The beheadings were also carried out to avenge the deaths of Muslims during inter-faith clashes across Central Sulawesi between 1998 and 2001, according to the defendants, who were also believed to be JI members.
Intelligence gathered by the Indonesian government, the International Crisis Group, and other terrorism experts, apparently showed that Hasanuddin was the head of the JI's terrorist group for Poso, which lies about 1,800 kilometers north-east of Jakarta. Poso was also the centre of conflicts between Muslims and Christians that killed more than 1,000 people there between 1999 and 2001, when a peace accord was signed.
The three militants faced a maximum penalty of death by firing squad, but the judges had pressed for leniency for cooperating with authorities, confessing and showing remorse.
"I was indeed involved in the beheadings," Hasanuddin told the court last year. "With honesty and sincerity coming from my heart, I ask for forgiveness from the families of the victims. I promise to never repeat it again."
However the outcome was expected to raise questions within Poso's Christian community as last year in October three alleged Christian militants were executed on charges of leading an attack on an Islamic boarding school in the region during sectarian violence in 2000.
Supporters claimed Fabianus Tibo, Marianus Riwu and Dominggus Silva were innocent and human rights groups said they were killed based on "shaky evidence." The three Christians had always maintained their innocence, saying they only came to help the local population.
Ken Conboy, a terrorism expert and author of several books on terrorism in Indonesia, told the Voice Of America (VOA) network that the jail terms for the three Muslim militants were unlikely to appease Christians in Poso as he predicted it is unlikely Hasanuddin will serve his full sentence.
"You also have to realize when they say 20 years over here, 20 years doesn't necessarily mean 20 years. There's appeals and so forth and sentences are cut," added Conboy.
"I think it's going to be a hard-core segment that's not going to be very satisfied with that, especially given the crime that was committed. Even by Poso standards that was pretty grisly."
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