Early this month, the Indonesian audience was once again presented with images of police killing high profile terror suspects.
This time, the gruesome image the public was left with was the lopsided and open-mouthed head of alleged bomb-maker Dulmatin, shot by the police in an internet café in Pamulang, South Tangerang.
The Counterterrorism Police Detachment 88 squad also killed two men, believed to be Dulmatin’s bodyguards, as they tried to escape on a motorcycle in a separate raid in Pamulang.
The Indonesian police hunt for terror suspects has gained much praise as counterterrorism agents continue to successfully locate leaders of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) — a militant group responsible for several bombings in Indonesia, killing master bombers Azahari in 2005 and Noordin M. Top last year.
However, critics say the killings might not be beneficial in eradicating terrorism in the long run, as the assassinations might instead give JI sympathizers a reason to turn into active JI combatants, and valuable information on terror networks that could have been extracted from the combatants has been lost.
Police might also be held accountable for human rights abuse or extra judicial killings if ever the political climate changed and religious-based parties gained more power, Indonesian extremism expert Noor Huda Ismail said. “That’s really not good for the police [agents] who have worked hard to address terrorism at its roots,” he said.
According to local newspaper Tempo, a witness in Pamulang saw that the two men killed had
not opened fire on the police although they had physically resisted the arrest.
“The police should immobilize [the suspects] but shouldn’t necessarily have to kill them,” said Huda recently, who is also the executive director of the Institute of International Peace Building.
“The police — in their capacity as law enforcers — do not have the right to punish. They have the right to investigate. Taking a life away can be categorized as extra judicial killing,” he said.
Indonesian Police Watch chairman Neta S. Pane suggested the police was using terror raids as a diversion from political issues, like the Bank Century bailout case. “Every time there is a big issue, they use the raids to divert attention from the case,” he said.
“The raids are always dramatic and suspects always shot to death,” he said. “If we let this be, it will
have a negative impact on police performance in the future. Besides capturing terror suspects, they [police agents] become executors under the pretence that the suspect resisted arrest.”
Neta added that under Dai Bachtiar’s leadership, national police agents rarely shot dead terror suspects — unlike now, as witnessed by the police’s Detachment 88 counterterrorism unit recent terrorist shootings.
The police was able to capture Bali bombers Amrozi, Mukhlas and Imam Samudra alive in 2002. The three were tried and executed in 2008.
National Police deputy spokesman Brig. Gen. Sulistyo Ishaq said the police always aimed to arrest suspects alive, but “if we [police agents] are under threat, we will resort to force that can be accounted for in the eyes of the law”.
International Crisis Group expert Sidney Jones said that all police actions should be guided by human rights and respect for the law, but there were times when it is perfectly legitimate to use force, when the threat confronted by law enforcement officers requires it.
“But anytime anyone is killed in the course of a police operation, it is appropriate to ask questions about whether non-lethal tactics could have been used and whether the deaths in question could have been avoided.”
She also agreed it would be far more beneficial to capture suspects alive, because of all the information they could provide about terror networks.
Huda said killing suspects might cause the police to lose crucial intelligence information.
“We do not know when exactly Dulmatin returned; what he was doing here; who was helping him,” he said.
The police however recently revealed that Dulmatin, one of the masterminds of the 2002 Bali bombings, had left his hideout under the radical Philippines Abu Sayyaf group to help open up a new training camp — different from the usual JI camp — in Aceh.
Dulmatin and colleagues Umar Patek and Heru Kuncoro, who are still at large, had extensive knowledge of setting up camps in the middle of the jungle, gained from their experience helping Abu Sayyaf rebels in Mindanao, South Philippines.
Police killed two terror suspects in Aceh and arrested 31 people. They also seized several weapons from the suspects, including three M16 and two AK-47 automatic rifles, a handgun, 25 ammunition magazines and hundreds of rounds of ammunition. Three police officers were killed and eleven wounded in the raid.
“I think the fact that three police were killed and 11 wounded this time indicates they were facing a serious threat,” Jones said. “That said, I also think the police at all levels could benefit from more training in confronting ‘active shooters’.”
The National Police chief Gen. Bambang Hendarso Danuri explained that suspected terrorists had changed tactics from suicide bombing to armed warfare, as indicated by the actions of the group reportedly involved recently in a training camp in Aceh.
Huda believes counterterrorism activities should be carried out as one “whole package” or all encompassing, and include “deradicalization” — the process of persuading extremists to abandon violence. Without this, he said, terrorism will continue to be a problem.
The killings of high profile terror suspects by the police runs the risk of converting JI sympathizers into combatants, he added.
“There has been an internal raft in JI since the first Bali bombings in 2002. The majority does not condone the use of violence, but a small group does,” he said.
The passive majority of JI supports the small violent group. “In a sense, they will never tip off the police about the small group’s movement,” he said.
Repressive methods used by the police — such as the use of force and killing suspects — might trigger some of the passive supporters to join the movement to show solidarity.
“And this should be avoided,” he said.
Prodita Sabarini, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | Life | Fri, March 26 2010