New Suspect in Indonesia Christian Beheadings Found; Families Grant Forgiveness

A new suspect in the beheadings of three teenage Indonesian Christian girls was found after three-week-long investigation. Families of victims, meanwhile, expressed forgiveness to the murders.

The 23-year-old suspect, Irfan Masuro, was arrested in Poso in Central Sulawesi province on Nov. 13, an Indonesian police spokesman Sunarko Danu Ardanto told Agence France Presse (AFP) Saturday.

Ardanto added that the police found blood stains on a bayonet of Masuro's that matched samples from one of the slain girls.

The three Indonesian Christian high school girls, aged 15-19, were beheaded by a group of five unidentified men riding on motorcycles, in the town of Poso in the province of Central Sulawesi, on Oct. 29. A fourth girl was able to escape but was seriously wounded, according to reports.

Fearing that the violence would spread in the religiously divided Poso, the Indonesian President had immediately prompted the police to probe into the case to identify the perpetrators. By Nov. 9, five men were detained for investigation on suspicion of their involvement in the beheadings. Three days later, they were released because police have not been able to find evidence to link them to the killings, Rudi Suhfariadi, police chief in the town of Poso, told Japan Today.

However, according to AsiaNews, the Major General Arief Budi Sampurno, regional commander of Sulawesi, announced that three out of the five suspects had been rearrested on Nov. 15.

Ardanto therefore told AFP, the new suspect Masuro was the fourth suspect so far detained for the killings.

According to the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN), the three families who suffered the loss of their young daughters in the brutal murders are still "in shock and grief." Nevertheless, they have all granted forgiveness to the murderers of their daughters. They believe that "it is God who will judge them."

Markus Sambuwe, the father of one of the girls - 15-year-old Yusriani Sambuwe – told CBN, "I am really angry, but the Holy Spirit touched my heart and changed me. I forgive them just as Jesus has forgiven my sins."

Pastors of churches in Poso, meanwhile, said that the deaths of the three slain girls "were not in vain."

"Because of the three girls who were martyred, we are challenged, and our faith is put to a test like gold. But we become strong because of their example," Pastor Mastin, who knew the three victims, told CBN. "We hope peace will come to Poso."

Mastin added that the three slain girls – 15-year-old Yusriani, 16-year-old Theresia Morangke, and 19-year-old Alvita Polio – were very active Christian leaders in school prayer meetings and church.

Nursalem Mawela, the father of the survivor in the attack, suggested a possible reason behind the attack.

"They (the three girls) must have offended the Muslim extremists because in this season of Ramadan, there should be no school, but the Christian school is open," he said, according to CBN.

A warning note stating that "another 100 Christian teenagers would be killed" was attached to the plastic bags that contained the heads of the three slain girls, the U.K.-based human rights watchdog Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) reported. The bags were found near a police station and a church two hours after the beheadings.

Sources say Poso had been stricken by three years of Muslim-Christian conflicts until the peace deal in late 2001. Around 2,000 people were killed in the riots.

As fears of a new wave of violence mounted, two other Indonesian girls were shot in Poso on Nov. 8. One of them died the next day. No report has confirmed whether the shootings were related to the beheadings.