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
Life and Style
A teenager boy wakes up.
life
Life and Style
It is believed that historically rising rates of alcohol consumption have contributed to the increase
food + drink
News
An Apple iPhone 6 stands on display at the Apple Store
businessRegulators give iPhone 6 and 6 Plus the green light
Arts and Entertainment
Critics say Kipling showed loathing for India's primitive villagers in The Jungle Book
filmChristopher Walken, Bill Murray, Scarlett Johanssen Idris Elba, Andy Serkis, Benedict Cumberbatch, Cate Blanchett and Christian Bale
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
Britain's internet habits have been revealed in a new survey
tech
Life and Style
Playing to win: for Tanith Carey, pictured with Lily, right, and Clio, even simple games had to have an educational purpose
lifeTanith Carey explains what made her take her foot off the gas
Arts and Entertainment
film
Arts and Entertainment
The White Sails Hospital and Spa is to be built in the new Tunisia Economic City.
architectureRussian billionaire designs boat-shaped hospital for new Dubai-style Tunisia Economic City
Arts and Entertainment
music
Life and Style
tech
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
A still from Duncan Campbell's hour-long film 'It for Others'
Turner Prize 2014
Life and Style
food + drink
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hadley in a scene from ‘Soul Boys Of The Western World’
musicSpandau Ballet are back together - on stage and screen
News
i100
Life and Style
Bearing up: Sebastian Flyte with his teddy Aloysius in Brideshead Revisited
lifePhilippa Perry explains why a third of students take a bear to uni
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Alan Sugar appearing in a shot from Apprentice which was used in a Cassette Boy mashup
artsA judge will rule if pieces are funny enough to be classed as parodies
Arts and Entertainment
film
News
news
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Pricing Analyst

£25000 - £30000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client are cur...

Data/ MI Analyst

£25000 - £30000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client are cur...

Project Manager with some Agile experience

£45000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsf...

Web Application Support Manager

£60000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Reigate...

Day In a Page

Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

Education, education, education

TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

Inside the E15 'occupation'

We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
Witches: A history of misogyny

Witches: A history of misogyny

The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style