Police Blame Victim for Aceh Mob Violence, Fail to Identify Attackers
Nurdin Hasan & Farouk Arnaz
Banda Aceh. Police in Aceh have blamed the leader of a supposedly heretical religious group for a brutal mob attack that left him and two others dead on Saturday, adding that there is no incriminating evidence against the attackers who also torched the victim’s home.
Tengku Aiyub Syahkuban, the leader of the religious group, was killed after a mob of around 1,500 people armed with machetes and sticks set fire to his home in Jambo Dalam village, Bireuen district, early on Saturday while he was congregating with followers.
One of Aiyub’s followers, Muntasir, and one of the attackers, Mansur, also died in the incident, while 10 people were seriously injured.
Aceh Police spokesman Sr. Comr. Gustav Leo said on Sunday that had he survived the attack, Aiyub would have been named a suspect in the case.
“For the murder of civilians, [the suspect] would be Aiyub. But he died, so his suspect status is automatically annulled,” he told the Jakarta Globe.
As for the attackers, Gustav said none of them had been named a suspect. He added that police were having trouble identifying who among the 1,500 attackers was directly responsible for the deaths.
“We haven’t been able to name any suspects. All we’ve been able to do is question witnesses from both sides,” he said.
According to police, the incident began when dozens of men came to Aiyub’s home at 10:30 p.m. on Friday to demand that he cease his teachings, which they claimed were blasphemous.
Aiyub and his followers reportedly attacked the men, killing Mansur with a machete. After that, the aggressors returned, this time with a huge mob at their back, and surrounded Aiyub’s home in the early hours on Saturday.
The machete-wielding mob began throwing rocks at the house and set it on fire. As Aiyub and Muntasir tried to flee from the burning building, they were brutally murdered by the mob.
Bireuen Police Chief Adj. Sr. Comr. Yuri Karsono said his team could do little to stop the violence.
“At 2.30 a.m. on Saturday, the security personnel could no longer contain the mob,” he said.
He added that his men tried to escort Aiyub and his followers from the house before the mob arrived, suggesting that police had prior knowledge that the attack was about to happen.
Yuri said police managed to get two of the followers to safety, including one who was badly injured by the mob, but Aiyub and Muntasir refused to leave the house.
He said police also requested reinforcements from the military, but the soldiers were unable to get to the scene because they were blocked by the mob.
Rights groups have warned of a worrying increase in the number of cases of violence against religious minorities. They also point out that the perpetrators are rarely prosecuted, and in the few cases in which they are brought to trial, they have walked away with lenient sentences.
In February last year, three people from an Ahmadiyah community in Cikeusik, Banten, were murdered in a similar attack by a mob of more than 1,000 people. Only 12 people were charged with the attack, receiving token jail sentences of just three to six months.
In August this year, two people from a Shiite community in Sampang, East Java, were killed in an attack that forced the community to flee from their homes. One person has been charged with orchestrating the attack, but has yet to go on trial.