The execution-style killing of four detainees accused of murdering a former member of the Army’s Special Forces ( Kopassus ) by reportedly “professional” gunmen has put the Indonesian Military’s ( TNI ) elite forces under intense public scrutiny.
A group of armed men wearing masks ransacked Cebongan Prison in Sleman, Yogyakarta, early on Saturday morning, killing four detainees who had been charged with stabbing to death a former Kopassus member, identified as First Sgt. Heru Santoso, in a brawl at a café in Yogyakarta last week.
The detainees were killed inside their cells. The assailants also took with them CCTV footage, threatened to blow up the prison with grenades, and injured eight prison officers before leaving the prison. The entire incident took only around 15 minutes to execute.
The fact that Heru was a former Kopassus member and that the attack was carried out in such a systematic away has triggered speculation that the perpetrators were members of Kopassus seeking to avenge Heru’s death.
Senior government officials have called on the public not to speculate as to who was responsible for the horrific killings, saying that everyone should wait for the results of the official investigation carried out by the police.
The TNI, however, was quick to deny the accusation. The commander of Regional Military Command ( Kodam ) IV/Diponegoro, Maj. Gen. Hardiono Saroso, claimed that his men had nothing to do with the incident. “None of the soldiers was involved. I am responsible as the district military commander,” he said.
He argued that just because the assailants appeared to be well-trained did not mean they were members of the military. He also said that the rifles used by the gunmen were not standard Army issue but were available in many places.
He confirmed that Heru was a former Kopassus member who was on duty when he visited the café on the night he was killed. Heru was transferred from Kopassus to the intelligence unit at Diponegoro military command. “He did not go there for leisure.”
Eva Kusuma Sundari, a member of the House of Representatives’ Commission III overseeing laws and human rights, suggested that the TNI should help the police to investigate the incident as there were indications of military involvement.
“Kopassus must conduct a transparent investigation regarding the allegations leveled against its members. Check all weapons and bullets to see whether any of them have been fired lately,” she said.
Coordinating Political, Legal and Security Affairs Minister Djoko Suyanto ordered on Saturday the TNI chief, Admiral Agus Suhartono, and National Police chief Gen. Timur Pradopo to investigate the case thoroughly. “No matter who the perpetrators are, they must be arrested and prosecuted,” he said.
Law and Human Rights Minister Amir Syamsuddin also demanded that the assailants be arrested immediately, saying that it was the first time that a group of men had broken into a prison and committed murder. “I apologize to the families of the victims for failing to protect their loved ones,” he said while visiting the prison.
The four victims, identified as Hendrik Angel Sahetapi alias Deki, Adrianus Candra Galaga, Yohanes Juan Mambait and Gamaliel Yermiayanto Rohi Riwu should have been detained at the Yogyakarta Police detention center, but were transferred to the Cebongan Prison because the ceiling in the detention center was damaged. This has led to speculation that the police were aware of a possible attack against the four.
The incident in Sleman occurred only weeks after the burning of a police station in Ogan Komering Ulu ( OKU ), South Sumatra, which highlighted once again the simmering tension between the police and the military. The OKU attack was triggered by the killing of a soldier by a policeman.
While officials have dismissed speculation that the killings in Sleman had anything to do with purported TNI-police rivalry, one of the slain suspects accused of killing Heru is confirmed as having been a former policeman.
The story has been revised to add the following information: First Sgt. Heru Santoso was transferred from Kopassus to the intelligence unit at Diponegoro military command.