Masked `ninjas' blamed for wave of killings in Java

LONG BEFORE his terrible death, and before anybody had even heard of the ninja killings, everyone in the town of Rogojampi knew that Salam was a sorcerer. Women in the neighbourhood had been becoming mysteriously sick, with swollen bellies that no doctor could diagnose or cure.

After praying to Allah for guidance, the victims had dreamed that Salam was responsible, and the local wise men had agreed. "We can't show you any evidence because this is satanism, you know," said Allawi, his neighbour yesterday, "but when someone in the neighbourhood is practising black magic, all the locals know." Firm in this conviction, a fortnight ago, the people of Rogojampi took the law into their own hands.

Forty-year-old Mr Salam was out when the mob called - so they tore down his little house. Two days later he was found and brought back forcibly to the town. The mob systematically switched off the electricity supply to each house.

"It was very dark and they killed him just over there, in front of the little mosque," says Mr Allawi. "They had sticks and swords and sharpened bamboo so when they finished his skull was caved in, and they broke all his ribs. His family and I took the body and laid it out in the house of his little sister."

Another "sorcerer" died that night - a 70-year-old man named Ashari who was taken from the Islamic school where he taught and dragged for two miles tied to the back of a van. But these two murders are no more than a small component of the weirdness that has overtaken Rogojampi and a dozen other towns in this, the far eastern tip of the island of Java. A hundred miles from Bali and its tourist beaches, a literal witch hunt is under way. Nobody seems to have any idea who is behind it or why it is taking place.

Over the last two months, more than 150 people have died in East Java in similarly mysterious and horrible circumstances. A pattern has established itself: the assailants come at night and carry out their murders after switching off the local electricity supply. Mr Salam's killers appear to have been local people, but in many cases they are strangers wearing black masks and clothes who arrive in out-of-town cars. All over East Java people refer to them by the same word: ninjas.

Last week alone one decapitated corpse was found in the town of Jember, and the mutilated body of a man was found hanging from a tree in the port of Banyuwangi, along with four other corpses. The dead generally fall into two categories: either they are alleged dukun santet or black magicians, or they are local Muslim teachers.

The killings have transformed Banyuwangi, the main sea route between Java and Bali, and the talk in the town is all of ninjas and sorcerers and who will be next. Army and military reinforcements have come in from all over the country, including troop carriers and riot control vehicles. At night, the streets are blockaded by vigilantes who patrol the town armed with makeshift weapons: scythes, bamboo spears, baseball bats. In the remoter villages the terror is acute. "For ten days we have been as afraid as if we were facing a war," says Hadi, a neighbourhood leader in Banyuwangi.

Despite their reinforced presence, the security forces appear to have had mixed success in halting the killings, although no new cases have been reported since Friday. Indonesian newspapers report that 92 people have been arrested in connection with the killing, and 21 charged. One human rights group which sent an investigation team from Jakarta last week claims that none of those arrested is directly responsible for the killings.

According to investigators from the National Commission on Human Rights, which also visited Banyuwangi last week, the killings may simply be a witch hunt. This is one of the most isolated and traditional areas in the country, and occasional murders of sorcerers have been known in the past. Recently a list of 337 alleged black magicians was drawn up by the local government. Copies are said to have been circulating freely, enabling witch hunters to identify targets. But this does not explain why Muslim teachers should have become a target. "It's been planned, funded and executed in a very sophisticated way," says Abdul Hadi, of the Muslim association, Nadhlatul Ulama (NU). "It's impossible that it doesn't have intelligent organisers."

But who? Since May, when President Suharto was forced from power, Indonesia has been in political turmoil, with ancient rivalries and feuds - suppressed during 30 years of dictatorship - rising to the surface. Some suspect that former members of the Indonesian Communist Party, massacred during the 1960s, are using the ninja rumours to take their belated revenge against the Islamic establishment. Others believe it is directed against NU which has recently set up its own political party in opposition to the new President, BJ Habibie.

Whoever is responsible, they have achieved something remarkable: the transformation of a modern town into a state of medieval superstition and terror.

Suggested Topics
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
Tovey says of homeless charity the Pillion Trust : 'If it weren't for them and the park attendant I wouldn't be here today.'
Rhys Williams
commonwealth games
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Employment Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - Senior Employment Solici...

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Day In a Page

Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little