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Tuesday, October 13, 1998 Published at 13:32 GMT 14:32 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Macabre murders sweep Java

More than 100 Muslim clerics and alleged black magic practitioners have been butchered in a mysteroius spate of murders in Java.

[ image: Mystics: A common sight in Indonesia]
Mystics: A common sight in Indonesia
The killers, wielding knives, swords and sickles, wear masks and black suits like those who practice the Japanese martial art of ninjutsu.

They usually attack people in their homes at night, and victims are often chopped into pieces.

Some of the mutilated bodies have been tied into bundles and hung from trees while others have been thrown into mosques.

Until the weekend, the bizarre slayings seemed to be confined to the eastern Java towns of Banyuwangi and Jember.

But an Islamic teacher was found with his throat slit in Demak, Central Java, shortly after he finished night prayers at a mosque on Sunday, Indonesian newspapers have reported.

The official death toll is now 109 following four more murders in East Java on Monday but Muslim groups put the toll at 164.

Victim was black magician, say protesters

Three men have been detained for the teacher's murder in Demak.

The arrests immediately sparked a protest by hundreds of people demanding the suspects' release.

"The whole town killed Rachmandi [the Islamic teacher] because he is a black magician. If you want, you should detain all of us," one woman shouted.

[ image: General Wiranto overseeing inquiries]
General Wiranto overseeing inquiries
So far no one has come up with a clear motive for the wave of killings.

Last week police said four members of the military were being questioned. The military in turn has accused members of the banned Communist Party of being involved - an allegation widely ridiculed in the press.

Armed forces chief, General Wiranto, is now overseeing an investigation. Police have arrested 49 people, including 10 suspected of instigating the murders and 17 of financing them.

They said investigations showed that informants were spying on potential victims. If they were believed to be practitioners of black magic, then the informant would report to an 'executioner'.

Government 'had list of suspected witches'

People accused of black magic have been the target of assaults since 1982, according to The Commission for the Disappeared and Victims of Violence (Kontras).

But human rights groups said the number of attacks in East Java, normally one to three a year, had soared since May.

[ image: Serial killer Suradji]
Serial killer Suradji
It said a list of 337 suspected witchcraft practitioners drawn up in September by the local government had somehow ended up being circulated among villagers.

In April a court on the Indonesian island of Sumatra sentenced a traditional sorcerer to death for the murder of 42 women.

Achmad Suradji strangled his victims as part of a ritual intended to increase his magical powers.

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