Suspected Muslim militant apologizes for beheadings of Christian girls in Indonesia


JAKARTA, Indonesia: A suspected Islamic militant told judges Wednesday he took part in the beheadings of three Christian girls on an Indonesian island wracked by sectarian violence to avenge the deaths of Muslims, but apologized to their families.

"We are not cold-blooded killers," Hasanuddin, 34, told the Central Jakarta District Court. "We just wanted revenge." Prosecutors allege that he and two other defendants ordered the brutal Oct. 29, 2005 murders of the girls as they walked to school on Sulawesi, the scene of religious clashes that left at least 1,000 people dead from 1998 to 2002. The men are being charged under Indonesia`s tough anti-terrorism laws and face possible death sentences if convicted. Prosecutors said Hasanuddin was the ringleader of the attack --- buying the machetes and plastic bags to put the girls` heads in --- and leaving a handwritten note at the scene vowing more killings. The two other defendants --- Lilik Purnomo, 28, and Irwanto Irano, 29 --- are being tried separately. State prosecutor Asep Maryono accused them Wednesday of recruiting four Islamic militants still at large to carry out the killings. Indonesia is the world`s most populous Muslim nation, with 90 percent of its 220 million people professing the faith, but Central Sulawesi province has a roughly equal number of Christians. Though large-scale clashes ended with the signing of a peace agreement four years ago, sporadic attacks have continued, the beheadings the most gruesome. Hasanuddin told the court he and the two other defendants were especially angry about a 2000 attack on an Islamic boarding school in the coastal town of Poso that left at least 70 people dead. Three Christian men were executed in September for the slayings, but the defendant claimed the masterminds were still free. "Male and female students were beheaded and buried in the nearby hills ... many of them raped before being killed," Hasanuddin said. In comparison, the deaths of the Christian girls "were nothing." He said, however, that he hoped the girls` families would accept his apology "for the sake of a peaceful Poso."

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