An Indonesian man who died in police custody after his arrest in Central Java last month was a leader of a new offshoot of the extremist group Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), national police said Tuesday.
The 34-year-old Siyono died after being arrested on March 8 by Densus 88, the police’s counter-terrorist wing, but preliminary results of an autopsy performed on his corpse on Sunday revealed bruises to his body, according to doctors. A cause of death has yet to be determined.
The autopsy was done after Siyono’s remains were dug up from his grave in Pogung village, Central Java. His wife and relatives had asked for an autopsy because, they said, his corpse showed signs of torture.
At a news conference in Jakarta on Tuesday, national police officials alleged that Siyono had played a leading role in the establishment of an offshoot of JI, the group linked to al-Qaeda that carried out the Bali bombings that killed 202 people in 2002.
“Siyono became the chief of staff of Toliah Bintonah, a position equivalent with Mantiki [a top level leadership] in JI. This is a new structure in JI with a new name,” National Police spokesman Anton Charliyan told reporters.
JI has transformed into a new group called Neo JI, he said.
“Siyono had been prepared to be the commander in chief to replace Jimmy,” Anton said, referring to the Neo JI commander who is serving 10 years in prison.
According to terrorism analyst Nasir Abbas, a former JI member, “the structure of the JI network is dead.”
“It is still unclear what the form [of the group is], what’s its name, and how it’s structured. Police are still learning about this,” Nasir told BenarNews, referring to Neo JI.
‘A row of lies’
Muhammadiyah, an influential Muslim group in Indonesia that supports the call by Siyono’s family for an ongoing investigation into his death, disputed Tuesday’s accusation by police.
“A row of lies will generate the next lies. We hope the effort in seeking justice for Suratmi [Siyono’s widow], can be the momentum to help improve the performance of police, the institution that we all love,” said Dahnil Anzar Simanjuntak, chairman of Muhammadiyah’s youth wing.
Human rights advocates and lawmakers in Indonesia last week called on President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo to order an independent review of Densus 88 in the wake of Siyono’s death. According to the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM), 121 suspects have died in the unit’s custody since the elite squad was formed in 2004.
Despite earlier objections from Siyono’s neighbors, an autopsy was performed at his gravesite in Pogung without a hitch over the weekend. The nearly five-hour examination involved nine forensics doctors provided by Muhammadiyah, and a police doctor.
People came by and provided water for hundreds of members of the Muhammadiyah Youth Preparedness Forces Command (pictured below) who guarded the autopsy that began at 6 a.m., according to a local police official.
The body was re-buried in the grave afterwards.
Last week, village chief Djoko Widoyo sent a letter to Siyono’s widow expressing villagers’ opposition to her plan to dig up her husband’s remains in order to perform an autopsy.
According to terms listed in the letter, the village threatened to kick out anyone who supported her plan to go ahead with the autopsy, and villagers would not allow her to re-bury her husband’s remains in the local cemetery.
Wounds from blunt objects
The chairman of the team of doctors who conducted the autopsy, Gatot Suharto, told reporters that there were no gunshot wounds.
“We found wounds caused by blunt objects on his body and also broken bones,” Gatot said.
Summy Hastry Purwanti a doctor representing police, confirmed evidence of violence.
“But whether that caused his death, we have to wait for results,” Summy said.
Complete results should be ready in seven to 10 days.
During Tuesday’s press conference in Jakarta, Arthur Tampi, the chief of the national police’s medical and health division, said that, although no initial autopsy was done on Siyono’s body immediately after his death, a police report dated March 11 also noted that there were no gunshot wounds.
Siyono was buried before dawn on March 13, five days after he was taken into custody.
“We used modern tools, including a CT scan, which is powerful and can be used to determine the cause of death. And the cause of death was due to bleeding in the back of his head,” Arthur said.
Police spokesman Anton dismissed allegations that officers killed Siyono, pointing out that he died after an altercation with the police. Anton acknowledged procedural errors in handling Siyono, including that police released the handcuffs and that Siyono was escorted by only one officer.
“This incident was an accident. It is unfortunate,” Anton said.
“If this is our way to remove the evidence, we would be the dumbest cops in the world,” he said, pointing out that officers lost key information about the location of hundreds of weapons.