2000 Walisongo school massacre

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Walisongo school massacre
LocationPoso regency, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia
Coordinates1°24′S 120°45′E / 1.400°S 120.750°E / -1.400; 120.750
Date28 May 2000, some reports suggest massacre lasted 2 days (UTC+8)
Attack type
Mass murder, massacre, school shooting, religious violence
WeaponsSmall arms, machete
Deaths165 official,[1] 191 according to most news sources.[2][3]
Non-fatal injuries
Unknown, hundreds
MotiveIslamophobia, competition over political influence

The Walisongo school massacre is the name given to a series of attacks by Christian militants on 28 May 2000 upon several predominantly Muslim villages around Poso town, Central Sulawesi, Indonesia as part of a broader sectarian conflict in the Poso region. Officially the total number killed in the attacks is 165,[4] but there is no definite figure of how many died. The number of dead is believed to be greater than the 39 calculated from bodies later discovered in 3 mass graves, and equal to or below the 191 quoted by Muslim sources.[1] The massacre is named for the Pesantren Walisongo boarding school in Sintuwu Lemba where the most high-profile murders occurred.[5] Three leaders of local Christian militia groups were later convicted and executed in 2006 for crimes committed during the massacre.[3]


The population of the Poso area in Central Sulawesi is geographically divided along Muslim and Christian lines, with coastal villages and cities majority Muslim and highland towns and villages majority indigenous Protestant.[6]

In part due to centuries of shipping trade, the indigenous Muslim population had integrated Bugis migrants from South Sulawesi and a small group of Arab traders, whose descendants held important places in Islamic institutions. The district also includes villages built under the government transmigration program, which brought in residents from densely populated areas, such as the primarily Muslim islands of Java and Lombok, and a small minority from the Hindu island of Bali.[4][6] Residents identifying themselves as Muslim attained a majority in Poso district by the late 1990s, and now top 60 percent, according to current government figures.[6]

This significant growth in the Muslim population relative to the Christian population created tension over political representation, particularly when large sections of the Poso economy were controlled by Muslim migrants. The lucrative production and export of cocoa, especially, had been dominated by Bugis and Chinese migrants. Following the devaluation of the rupiah, the cultivation of such cash crops by migrants increased and several trans-migrant groups established plantations in previously forested interior areas considered to be Christian land.[4][6] This marginalization of the indigenous Christian population lead to fear that the traditional, if unwritten, power sharing structure of the Poso district, which separated administration between Christians and Muslims, may be threatened.[6]

Human Rights Watch describes that the outbreaks of violence coincided with disputes over candidates for economically significant district political positions, as the elected official was able to grant valuable government contracts. In particular it notes a dispute for the position of district secretary in April, 2000 immediately prior to the massacre[1][6] and newspapers at the time printed statements by a Unity Party member of the provincial assembly predicting greater violence if the candidate Ladjalani was not chosen as secretary.[1]

May riots[edit]

Both Muslim and Christian leaders blamed the local political elite for using religious differences to further divide the community and enhance their own power and allege unnamed members in Poso's government paid thugs to incite gang fights during competition for local government positions.[4]

The gang fights escalated to full-scale riot in Poso and the local police chief called in Palu troops from a police paramilitary unit. On April 17 the unit allegedly fired upon a crowd of rioting Muslim youths, killing 3[1] and inciting the youths to torch at least 300 Christian homes throughout April.[4] Many of those Christians displaced in the violence fled to Tentena or the hills around Poso and it was rumored that many youths took refuge at that training camp of a Christian militia in Kelei.[1]

Early on the morning of May 23, a gang of Christian militia members, led by transmigrant Fabianus Tibo, killed a policeman and two civilians in central Poso town and took refuge in a Catholic church. A mob, allegedly composed of angered Muslim residents, gathered to burn the building, unwittingly allowing Tibo to escape. The mob was involved in fierce sectarian fighting throughout the day that injured at least 10 in the Sayo district of Poso.[1]

The attack[edit]

According to a report compiled by local Islamic academics, on the morning of the attack some villagers sought refuge at the district military command in Kawua. They allege that the subdistrict police chief forced them to return home, insisting the situation was safe.[1]

During a heavy downpour on 28 May 2000, the electricity in the Muslim village of Sintuwu Lemba was cut, allegedly by the attacking militants. Masked members of a Christian militia surrounded the village, populated mainly by resettled Javanese cacao farmers who had previously lived in South Sulawesi, and captured the village women and children and some men.[1] Around 70 adult or adolescent males fled to take refuge in the Walisongo religious boarding school compound where they were set upon and killed with small arms fire and machetes.[1][3]

Aside from those killed at the school, others captured were reportedly bound and forced to walk two kilometers to the Poso river near the town where many captives were killed, including children and infants,[7] and there were reports that the Poso River was clogged with bodies in the aftermath.[4] Many surviving women later reported having been raped by the militants and having seen relatives suffer sexual assault also.[1][7] One female resident recalled witnessing 9 of her relatives being murdered by the militants, including her youngest child in third grade.[7] Another male resident, who survived the attack at the school, told a journalist he had been captured again four days later and taken to the river to be executed and escaped.[8]

Testimony to Human Rights Watch indicates the modus operandi of the militants was similar in other towns populated by Muslim residents; a further 8 Muslim residents disappeared from the village of Tabalo after the assailants had the locals gather and walk to Kasiguncu township.[1] At least 14 Muslim transmigrants from Lombok and Java subsequently disappeared after being abducted from another town by an estimated 100 masked militants who had ordered the locals to gather at the village hall.[1] Witnesses described the militia as having a list of names of people to abduct and several trucks to transport them.[1]

Some residents of Tabalo recognized the militants as youths from the nearby villages of Tangkora and Sanginora, and even some from their own town who had disguised themselves in all black attire and ski masks.[1][9] Several residents described the militants as being armed with bamboo spears and Ambon arrows, powerful slingshots that fire sharp metal bars, among other projectiles.[10]

Anywhere up to 4,000 homes were reported torched across a number of villages,[4] with the militia specifically targeting those owned by Muslim families.[1] This created a significant movement of Muslim residents, either left homeless or fearing other attacks, to majority Muslim areas within or around Palu and refugee camps were established in the local Palu football stadium by various local Muslim groups.[9] In mid-2008 several Sintuwu Lemba villagers displaced by the violence were still occupying burned-out houses with little to no sanitation.[11]

Investigation and aftermath[edit]

Some observers suggested the violence was planned during a national Koran reading contest in Palu attended by the president and vice-president, as authorities would be distracted by the large event and the presence of the Indonesian executive leaders.[1]

A number of groups sought retaliation for the attacks, most prominently Al-Khaira'at, an important Islamic educational institution in Eastern Indonesia, which is alleged to have purchased materials to produce weapons and to have distributed machetes and quantities of money to volunteers sent by truck from Palu to Poso. Witnesses suggest two truck-loads of Palu recruits engaged Christian militia in the village of Tokorondo on May 29, but suffered casualties and did not participate so directly in the later conflict.[1]

In response to the massacre and retaliation, the Indonesian Regional Military Command sent 1,500 more soldiers, ten tanks, and a combat unit to the Poso area increasing the military presence in the area to three infantry battalions or some 2,200 uniformed troops. On 6 June, Christian militia battled with the authorities east of Poso, suffering heavy casualties.[1][9]

Criminal charges[edit]

The then governor identified Advent L. Lateka,[12] a Protestant figure, as mastermind of the massacre and general increase in violence. Lateka was later killed on 2 June when hundreds clashed in the Poso neighborhood of Kayamanya and in mid-July another 124 Protestants were arrested southeast of Poso, in Kolonedale, for carrying weapons, mainly machetes.[1]

Later that July, three militants born in East Nusa Tenggara, convicted murderer Tibo, Dominggus da Silva and Don Marinus Riwu, were apprehended on suspicion of organising the massacre.[1] In 2001 a three-judge court, after hearing testimony from 28 witnesses, convicted Tibo as the leader of a Christian militia called the Red Group, and found that da Silva was one of his commanders and that Mr. Riwu took part in the killings.[2] Though the defense claimed Tibo may have been little more than a hired thug,[1] all three were sentenced to death by firing squad and executed in September 2006 for their crimes.[3][13]

During his trial, Tibo gave in his testimony the names of 16 people who he alleged were the coordinators of the massacre, including several senior Christian church leaders, though none of those named have ever been charged or brought to trial.[2]

Subsequent events[edit]

A similar attack by alleged Red Group members was staged against the majority Muslim village of Buyung Katedo on 3 June 2001, killing at least 14 people, all but two of whom were women and children. Among those murdered in Buyung Katedo were the Imam of the local mosque and Firman, an infant.[1][5]

Muslim militants are accused of two separate massacres against Sulawesi civilians in October 2003, which killed 8 in the predominantly Christian villages of Saatu, Pantangolemba and Pinedampa and another 3 in the neighboring Morowali regency a few days earlier. Thirty houses and a church were ransacked and torched, also.[14]

As of 2011 the total number of people killed in the 28 May massacre still remains unclear, with mass graves still being unearthed across the Poso regency. The bodies of 63 unidentified people were discovered at the base of a ravine nearby Tagolu village several months after[9] while a further mass grave, allegedly containing more deceased residents of Sintuwu Lemba, was unearthed in May 2006 following the information provided at trial by the three convicted militants.[3]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w "IV. PART TWO: CHRONOLOGY OF THE CONFLICT". Central Sulawesi Conflict Report. Human Rights Watch. Retrieved 29 March 2011.
  2. ^ a b c BONNER, RAYMOND (11 August 2006). "Indonesia to Execute 3 for Roles in Riots That Killed Hundreds". New York Times. Retrieved 30 March 2011.
  3. ^ a b c d e "Security tightened in Sulawesi". Taipei Times. 24 September 2006. Retrieved 29 March 2011.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Nunan, Patricia (31 July 2000). "Background report, Sulawesi conflict". Voice of America via GlobalSecurity.org. Retrieved 29 March 2011.
  5. ^ a b McRae, David (20 September 2006). "Executing Tibo solves nothing". The Jakarta Post. Retrieved 30 March 2011.
  6. ^ a b c d e f "III. PART ONE: CONTEXT, CAUSES, AND LASKAR JIHAD". Report on the Sulawesi Conflict. Human Rights Watch. Retrieved 30 March 2011.
  7. ^ a b c Sangadji, Ruslan (12 May 2006). "Woman recalls murder of family in Poso massacre". Jakarta Post. Retrieved 29 March 2011.
  8. ^ McBeth, John; Oren Murphy (6 June 2000). "Bloodbath". Far Eastern Economic Review.
  9. ^ a b c d Schmetzer, Uli. "ETHNIC CLEANSING". Gathered reports by Uli Schmetzer. Ulischmetzer. Retrieved 30 March 2011.
  10. ^ Adams, Brad; Mike Jendrzejczyk; Malcolm Smart; Joseph Saunders; Aaron Brenner; James Ross; Widney Brown; Ami Evangelista; Patrick Minges & Fitzroy Hepkins. "IV. PART TWO: CHRONOLOGY OF THE CONFLICT". Human Rights Watch. INDONESIA BREAKDOWN: FOUR YEARS OF COMMUNAL VIOLENCE IN CENTRAL SULAWESI.
  11. ^ Useem, Sue (2008). "Grassroots rehabilitation: The people of Poso are rebuilding their lives". Inside Indonesia. Edition 93 (July–September). Retrieved 30 July 2011.
  12. ^ "Jejak Kelalawar Hitam, Pembantai Muslim Poso; from google (A. L. Lateka poso wiki) result 4".
  13. ^ MSNBC: "Indonesia executes Christian militants" September 22, 2006
  14. ^ "What happened in Poso?". The Jakarta Post. 14 October 2003. Retrieved 30 March 2011.