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 20 arrested in raid on sect in Palu JAKARTA - Penetrating rugged hills in Palu, police on Wednesday arrested 20 suspected members of a shadowy religious sect who were assumed responsible for the killing of three police officers on Tuesday.

In a massive operation, police also spotted the remains of a sect member near the sect's base in the Gawalise Hills here, bringing the death toll in the incident to five. Another sect member was found dead on Tuesday after the deadly melee, said police spokesman Brig. Gen. Sunarko Danu Artanto during a press conference in Jakarta.

The deadly incident on Tuesday morning broke out after police descended into the sect's neighborhood in the Gawalise Hills, some 11 kilometers west of Palu, in order to detain the sect leader, Mahdi, for questioning. Mahdi had been reported for allegedly spreading heretical Islamic beliefs.

However, the 16 police officers met stiff resistance by dozens of Mahdi's followers, who reportedly became hysterical after the police attempted to apprehend the sect leader. Wielding swords and sickles, sect members attacked the officers. Three policemen and two sect members were left dead as a result of the violence. Although 300 police officers had been deployed to the area on Wednesday, Mahdi had not yet been arrested, the Associated Press reported.

At a press conference on Wednesday, police general Sunarko claimed that officers found a dead baby near the sect's base during Wednesday's operations. Sect members were apparently attempting to bring the child back to life, Sunarko said.

In a separate development, with their neighborhood under attack by the police, seven sect members chose to surrender. They surrendered in Silae subdistrict, some three kilometers from Salena hamlet where the sect's base was located. They were taken to Palu Police Headquarters for questioning.

The clash between police personnel and sect members stunned many in Jakarta, with Minister of Religious Affairs Maftuh Basyuni declaring Mahdi's teachings to be "completely deviant." The grouping was not even considered a sect of Islam as it banned its followers from fasting and from performing daily prayers. Although condemning the group, Maftuh did not say whether the government would ban their teachings, merely saying "the government would direct them to return to the right path."

Meanwhile, a cultural activist on Wednesday strongly condemned police actions against the sect members. Having tried to arrest the sect leader, the police had violated the basic rights of every citizen to practice freedom of religion, said Emil Kleden, the secretary of the Archipelago Customary Alliance (AMAN), quoted by Antara.

The sect was just one of many similar sects nationwide branded as deviant by mainstream religious leaders, be they Muslim, Christian, Hindu or Buddhist. The mainstream are uneasy with the sects for their potential to disrupt social harmony.


Related blog entry (category 'C. Sulawesi conflict') Related blog entry (category 'C. Sulawesi conflict'):
26 October 2005 · Four dead in police clash with sect in Sulawesi


Posted in C. Sulawesi conflict @ 27 October 2005 07:22 CET by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink






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