Fear Escalates in Indonesia as Two Schoolgirls Shot Following Beheadings

Fear is increasing among Christians in Indonesia as two more Indonesians were attacked following the shocking beheadings of three schoolgirls in Poso in late October.

|PIC1|At around 7:45 p.m. on Nov. 8, two 17-year-old girls were shot in the head near a Pentecostal church in the Gatot Subroto area of Poso in Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, according to human rights group International Christian Concern (ICC).

The two victims – a Muslim and a Christian – were left seriously wounded and were immediately taken to the Poso general hospital, district police officer Lariwu told Agence France Presse (AFP). Until now, the police have not been able to identify the two gunmen riding on a motorcycle.

Tuesday’s shooting has evoked terror among residents in Poso, an area with a history of severe Muslim-Christian clashes from 1998 through 2001, and heightened concerns of international Christian groups. The incident is particularly disturbing because it has followed the recent beheadings of three Christian schoolgirls on Oct. 28.

Following the beheadings, international Christian groups protested against the bombings, shootings and other attacks targeting Christians in addition to dozens of alleged government-sponsored church closures in West Java. A statement released by ICC on Nov. 4 noted, "These beheadings are only the latest of over 40 recent violent attacks against the Christian community in central Sulawesi."

|QUOTE|Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was also deeply concerned by last month’s beheadings. According to AFP, 400 police and 600 troops were sent by Yudhoyono to secure the troubled city of Poso. The President also ordered the police to immediately hunt for the killers. Despite increased security, Tuesday’s shooting still occurred.

"This latest attack also underscores the level of danger to Christians in the Poso area. This attack comes on the heels of 40 or more attacks against the Christian community,” stated ICC on a statement released on Nov. 8. “There have not been any convictions or arrests in any of these attacks.”

In addition, ICC pointed out that ten national-level police officials were in Central Sulawesi heading up the investigation into the beheadings and that "this latest attack right under their noses comes as a complete embarrassment to the central government."

|AD|Due to the history of religious tension between Muslims and Christians in Poso, where the two groups are almost equally populated, Muslim extremists were believed to be linked to the violence against Christians prior to the identification of any suspects.

On Wednesday – one day after the shooting – the spokesman for Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said the beheadings last month and the latest shooting were "an attempt to reignite religious violence" in Poso, according to Reuters.

"[The attacks] did not come from one religion but had people from different religions. It seems the purpose is to provoke religious emotions among Poso residents so that there will be chaos," stated the President’s spokesman, Andi Mallarangeng.

Meanwhile, Major General Kohirin Suganda, the spokesman for Indonesian military's chief, announced that four people were captured and detained for investigation by police officers, but no suspect has yet been named, Reuters reported. Three of them are civilians while another is a former military policeman.

ICC expressed its outrage at the inefficient progress of Indonesian authorities in dealing with the Christian persecutions. In a statement it said, "Regardless of whether the Central Sulawesi authorities have real suspects or not, ICC demands that the Indonesian President immediately replace the local police and military authorities in Central Sulawesi and start an investigation into their inaction."

ICC urges all those who are concerned about the case to contact the Indonesian Embassy in their respective countries and voice their opinions.

Eunice Or
Christian Today Correspondent