Indonesian anti-terror cops accused of fuelling jihad

The elite police unit on the front line of Indonesia's lauded terrorism clampdown faces fresh allegations of torture and unlawful killings, raising concerns it is fuelling the jihadist cause.

Detachment 88 was established after the 2002 bombings on Bali that killed 202 people, mostly Western tourists, and has gained strong public support after claiming the scalps of some of the region's most-wanted extremists.

But last month a video emerged in which officers from the anti-terror unit interrogated a suspect writhing in pain after he had been shot in the chest and forced to strip to his underwear.

"Why did you shoot me? I surrendered," he screams, as police repeatedly yell back that he ask Allah for forgiveness. "You're going to die," they say, trampling on three other suspects, shooting into the ground to intimidate them.

The suspect who was shot in the video, Rahman Kalahe, survived the incident and was sentenced to 19 years' jail over his role in the beheading of three Christian schoolgirls and the murder of a priest in Poso.

However, the footage has prompted the National Human Rights Commission to reopen its investigation into the 2007 raid, while Islamic groups and members of parliament have made calls to disband Detachment 88.

"Detachment 88 has used torture, killings and intimidation, but they are never held accountable. The unit must be dissolved," said Din Syammsuddin, chairman of the nation's second-largest Muslim organisation, Muhammadiyah, who took the video to police.

The government insists that its security forces have "great respect for human rights".

"There are standard operating procedures in the handling of terrorism. It is not true that Detachment 88 employs a shoot-to-kill approach," presidential spokesman Julian Aldrin Pasha told AFP.

"Any actions contrary to the law, including human rights law, will be processed. Without exception for anyone. This country upholds and enforces the rule of law," he said.

The Detachment 88 unit, which gets funding and training from the United States and Australia, has been successful in quelling the kind of militant attacks on civilian targets that rocked Indonesia in the past decade.

Indonesia's battle with terror is now being fought almost entirely between militants and police, much of it in Poso district -- a known hotbed for militant activity on Sulawesi island, where the videotaped raid took place.

This shift in the nature of terrorism in Indonesia has raised concerns that the unit's treatment of suspects is fuelling revenge attacks.

Since the establishment of Detachment 88, Indonesian police have killed at least 90 suspects in counterterrorism operations, the International Crisis Group reported.

But fully 50 of them have been killed since 2010, a year after the last major deadly attack in the nation.

"You can see why people get angry when the police start shooting people just because they have a copy of a book on jihad in their rooms," Todd Elliot, Jakarta-based terrorism analyst with Concorde Consulting, told AFP.

"When we haven't seen a major attack in years and police are killing terror suspects every two months, you can understand why people are asking questions."

National Anti-Terror Agency chief Ansyaad Mbai denies the unit is trigger-happy, saying the deaths happen because terror suspects rarely surrender and are often armed.

The numbers seem to support his argument -- in the same period that 50 suspects were killed, 21 police were slain trying to make arrests or investigate extremist activity.

In October, two officers investigating an alleged terrorist camp in Poso were found dead and buried in a hole with their throats slit.

"Terrorism is an extraordinary crime that requires extraordinary operations," Mbai told AFP.

"They don't respect Indonesians' rights, so why are we suddenly so concerned with theirs?" he said.

"Since Detachment 88 was established, we have captured 850 terrorists. Yes, dozens have been killed, but most were taken alive."

Mbai sees the video as the latest tactic in a long-standing campaign against the unit, likely from political factions or hardline Islamic groups that regularly paint Detachment 88 as anti-Muslim.

The rights commission has recommended Detachment 88 employ a more transparent evaluation process and the unit be held accountable for any extra-judicial killings.

But Mbai said: "I don't agree with these calls to hold officers to account through legal procedures. This will just demoralise the unit."

Problems within Detachment 88 are not unique to the unit. The UN's Special Rapporteur on Torture in 2008 found that torture and abuse of suspects during arrest and police detention were widespread in Indonesia.

"The video indicates a definite need for better human rights training. The whole police institution in Indonesia is still in need of reform," Elliot said.