By Mark Forbes Herald Correspondent in Jakarta
October 27, 2005
Attempts by Indonesian police to arrest a mystical cult leader have left three officers dead, six in hospital and two missing in Central Sulawesi.
Sixteen police searching for a witch doctor after allegations of Satanism and child sacrifice were confronted by more than a hundred "possessed" followers, a police spokesman, Brigadier-General Sunarko, said.
Machete-wielding men, believing themselves impervious to bullets, ignored warning shots and stabbed to death the local heads of the intelligence and riot squads, and a junior officer. A cult member is also believed to have died in the clash.
Police were searching the isolated, mountainous Gawalise area for two missing officers yesterday. General Sunarko said he did not know if they were being held hostage.
The cult leader, Madi, was still on the run but 20 of his followers who surrendered yesterday were being questioned at Central Sulawesi police headquarters.
The police chief of the nearby town of Palu, Bayu Wijanarko, said Madi appeared to be possessed by a spirit when he confronted police. Dancing and circling the officers, he pulled out a machete and killed Commissioner Fuadi Chalis.
The other cult members "were bulletproof" as police shots at them had no effect, Inspector Wijanarko said.
General Sunarko said six officers and a local who was not a member of the cult were being treated in hospital.
Police met Madi last week following complaints from local residents, and decided to take him in for questioning on Tuesday, General Sunarko said.
He refused to comment on allegations of human sacrifice. "I do hear news about a body of a dead baby but we don't know the connection," he said.
Madi appears to have merged ancient superstitions and animist practices with Islam. Local people became upset when he banned followers from fasting during the holy Muslim month of Ramadan.
Members of Madi's group, which has no name, wear white headbands and yellow fabric sashes, symbolising purity of the soul and respect for traditional values. Relatives said he had been a respected traditional healer, but increasingly became possessed by spirits.
Again, 'Satanism' is a word used as a blanket statement to label what the ignorant do not understand, thereby fostering misconception. This sounds like an Islamic cult with some sort of skewed ersatz 'warrior ethos', which probably amounts to nothing more than a mistranslation of Islamic text, or yet another fundamental sect, or even possibly a heretical group altogether. Whatever it is, it is definitely not Satanic.