- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 21, 2006

PALU, Indonesia — Three Christian militants were executed by firing squad early today for leading attacks on Muslims six years ago that left 70 persons dead, a police official and local news media said.

The men were taken before the firing squad at 12:15 a.m., said a senior police officer, who asked not to be identified because he wasn’t authorized to speak to the media. Metro TV and SCTV had similar reports, but did not identify their sources.

The case against them has heightened tensions in the world’s most populous Muslim nation and raised questions about the role religion played in punishing those behind the violence that swept Sulawesi province from 1998 to 2002, killing more than 1,000 people of both religions.

Only a small number of Muslims were convicted in the violence, all for 15 years in prison or less.

In carrying out the death sentence, Indonesia ignored an appeal last month by Pope Benedict XVI to spare the men. A Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, told the Italian news agency ANSA that news of the execution “was very sad and painful.”

Fabianus Tibo, 60, Marinus Riwu, 48, and Dominggus da Silva, 42, were found guilty of leading a Christian militia that launched a series of attacks in May 2000 — including a machete and gun assault on an Islamic school where dozens of men were seeking shelter.

Security forces braced for sectarian violence, with thousands of police blocking roads leading to the prison where the inmates had been held.

“I understand they have been killed,” said Roy Rening, their attorney, adding that he was still awaiting confirmation from the prosecutor’s office.

Jeremy Sewall, a policy analyst for the Silver Spring, Md.-based International Christian Concern (ICC), told The Washington Times that the three men were denied the opportunity to attend Mass before they died.

“The Indonesian government is sacrificing true justice to provide judicial ‘balance’ by executing these three Christians to appease Muslims who are upset that three Islamic terrorists are also set to be executed for their part in the Bali bombings,” he said. “This is not justice. This is deception, coverup, and appeasement.”

The ICC, which investigated the violence in Indonesia, said that entire Christian villages were attacked with government munitions and burned down using Indonesian government fuel trucks. Christian adults and children were beheaded.

Human rights workers say the men’s 2001 trial was a sham, and that while it was possible the men took part in some of the violence, they almost certainly were not the masterminds.

The executed men told relatives and a priest during final prayers at their jail yesterday that they were innocent but ready to die.

The condemned men had said they hoped investigations into the clashes would continue, noting that they had provided authorities with the names of 16 Christians who they said instigated some of the worst bloodshed.

The government said its investigation is complete.

“My father told me he was not afraid to die, he is not afraid to face his destiny,” said Tibo’s son, Robert. “But he wants the real killers to be caught.”

Thousands of Christians rallied peacefully in at least seven towns yesterday. Muslim protesters also have taken to the streets in recent weeks, demanding the men be killed following two last-minute stays, the most recent just more than a month ago.

Fearing violence timed to the executions, Indonesia deployed more than 2,000 police and soldiers in Palu, some guarding churches that dot the city.

Security was also stepped up on the island of Flores, where the three men were born, said Lt. Col. Endang Syafrudin, the island’s police chief.

Staff writer Julia Duin contributed to this report from Washington.

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