Three Teenage Christian Schoolgirls Beheaded in Indonesia

The beheaded bodies of three teenage Christian schoolgirls were found near a Muslim town in east Indonesia Saturday morning.

Officials said that the victims found in the town of Poso in the province of Central Sulawesi were beheaded two hours prior to the time their bodies were discovered at the site of attack according to Reuters. The killings are now under investigation.

According to state-run news agency Antara, the three high school students were believed to have been murdered while they were on their way to school, about nine kilometers from their homes, on Saturday morning.

Another three students, who were walking together with the three victims, had suffered serious stab wounds in the attack, the report added.

The detailed account of the incident currently remains unclear. While most of the news agencies reported that two men armed with machetes riding on a motorcycle had slashed out at the girls, attempting to chop off the students’ heads, Reuters reported a slightly different account of the incident. According to a statement from the National police spokesman cited by Reuters, up to six men were responsible for the murders in Bukit Bambu village of Poso.

National police spokesman Aryanto Budiharjo told reporters in Jakarta, "The perpetrators wore black attire and veils and they used machetes to slash (the victims)."

Reuters reported three headless bodies, dressed in brown uniforms, were left at the site of the attack. Three heads were found at separate locations two hours later by local residents.

According to the Italy-based news agency AsiaNews, the three deceased have been identified as 15-year-old Yusriani Sampoe, 16-year-old Theresia Morangke, and 19-year-old Alvita Polio.

Rais Adam, the provincial police spokesman for the province of Central Sulawesi told the Agence France Presse (AFP) that two of the victims' heads were found near a police post while the third was discovered outside a local Christian church.

"We are still waiting for results from investigation in the field. We are still trying to determine whether this case is religiously-motivated or not," Adam said.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono expressed his pressing concern about the killings, which he condemned as "sadist and inhuman crimes," according to Reuters. Yudhoyono immediately called an urgent meeting with the high security officials, including his vice-president, Jusuf Kalla, and heads of the army, police and intelligence departments.

"I forcefully condemn these attacks against civilization and I call on the local people to collaborate with the government to guarantee a successful outcome of the investigations and to maintain security," stated the Indonesian president, as quoted by state-run news agency Antara.

Sources say that Poso, which is 1,500 km (900 miles) northeast of the capital Jakarta, had been stricken by three years of Muslim-Christian conflicts until the peace deal in late 2001. 2,000 people were killed in the riots.

In addition, the province of Central Sulawesi has a roughly equal number of Muslims and Christians, representing a unique community in Indonesia – the world’s most populous Muslim nation.

Sources say the killings of the three Christian students have reignited the tension between Muslims and Christians in Poso. Around 400 policemen have been sent to the troubled area to maintain security, fearing that a new wave of violence may break out, according to Reuters.

President Yudhoyono called for calm and pledged to hunt down the attackers as saying, "I want to tell all my brothers and sisters in Poso that such violence cannot be tolerated, and the police with the military will make sure that it will not happen again."