Three Indonesian girls beheaded - Click to see Convict Let Go
By Tim Johnston BBC News, Jakarta
Last Updated: Saturday, 29 October 2005, 08:32 GMT 09:32 UK
Three girls have been beheaded and another badly injured as they walked to a Christian school in Indonesia.
They were walking through a cocoa plantation near the city of Poso in central Sulawesi province when they were attacked.
This is an area that has a long history of religious violence between Muslims and Christians.
A government-brokered truce has only partially succeeded in reducing the number of incidents in recent years.
Police say the heads were found some distance from the bodies.
It is unclear what was behind the attack, but the girls attended a private Christian school and one of the heads was left outside a church leading to speculation that it might have had a religious motive.
Central Sulawesi and Poso in particular was the scene of bitter fighting between Muslims and Christians in 2001 and 2002.
More than 1,000 people were killed before a government-brokered truce.
Although the violence has been subdued, it has never gone away completely.
A bomb in May in the nearby town of Tentena, which is predominantly Christian, killed 22 people and injured over 30.
The fighting four years ago drew Islamic militants from all over Indonesia and many have never gone home.
Analysts say the militants have targeted central Sulawesi and believe that it could be turned into the foundation stone of an Islamic state.
The analysts have warned that the violence could resurface at any time.
THREE Christian high school girls were beheaded as a Ramadan "trophy" by Indonesian militants who conceived the idea after a visit to Philippines jihadists, a court heard yesterday.
The girls' severed heads were dumped in plastic bags in their village in Indonesia's strife-torn Central Sulawesi province, along with a handwritten note threatening more such attacks.
The note read: "Wanted: 100 more Christian heads, teenaged or adult, male or female; blood shall be answered with blood, soul with soul, head with head."
Javanese trader Hasanuddin appeared in Jakarta Central Court yesterday charged with planning and directing the murders in October last year. He faces a death sentence if found guilty under anti-terrorism legislation.
Hasanuddin allegedly returned from a visit to members of Philippines Islamist group the Moro Islamic Liberation Front with tales of how that organisation regularly staged bombings to coincide with Lebaran, the festival that ends the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. He later spoke with a preacher in Poso, Central Sulawesi, about whether such a plan could work in Indonesia, but expressed doubt about whether it was appropriate.
However, after further discussion with friends, he decided that beheading Christians could qualify as an act of Muslim charity.
Conscripting several accomplices at a local pesantren, or Islamic school, he directed one of them, Lilik Purnomo, to seek out "the head of a Christian", prosecutors alleged.
"It would be a great Lebaran trophy if we got a Christian. Go search for the best place for us to find one," Hasanuddin allegedly ordered his companion.
Lilik returned to say he had found an "excellent" target - a group of schoolgirls who travelled to and from class by foot in the Central Sulawesi village of Gebong Rejo. The village is in the district of Poso, where hundreds of people have died in sectarian violence in recent years.
Many observers worry that Central Sulawesi has become the latest battleground in a deadly jihad.
Three Christian men were executed there last month for their role in a massacre of Muslims in 2000 and there have been a series of deadly attacks in the province in recent months.
Prosecutors yesterday detailed how Hasanuddin, Lilik and co-accused Irwanto Irano planned the schoolgirl beheadings with six other men. They prepared six machetes and black plastic bags for carrying off the severed heads and spent several days surveying the area where the students regularly passed by.
The operation was called off on one occasion, when a woman spotted the attackers hiding by the roadside, waiting for their victims. On the night before the attack, Lilik told Hasanuddin: "I hope you are ready to receive your Lebaran gift."
The attack was launched the following morning, but only four of the six targeted girls appeared.
Lilik, directing the attack from a nearby hill, told his accomplices to act quickly so that the remaining two girls could still be killed should they appear behind their friends.
The attackers cleanly beheaded three of the students but a fourth, Noviana Malewa, escaped after a struggle and ran away screaming. Her attackers gave chase but were unable to catch her.
The bodies, dressed in school uniform, were left by the roadside near the execution site, but the heads were carried in a backpack to Hasanuddin.The trial of his two co-accomplices was adjourned until Wednesday, when Hasanuddin will also reappear