Indonesian Witch Hunters

140+deaths

Since September, 1998, more than 153 people have been murdered in East Java by groups of men clad in black wearing Ninja-style masks. The victims have been mostly Muslim clerics, black magicians and other people accused of sorcery.

The killers have struck against the sorcerers at night, cutting their throats and sometimes hanging their mutilated bodies in trees or tossing them in the street. Victims sometimes have been cut into small pieces and their body parts thrown into mosques.

Shocked by the mysterious murders, Indonesia's justice minister proposed outlawing black magic. In scenes reminiscent of the Salem witch hunts, mobs have also attacked and killed people suspected of being black magicians. Police have arrested more than 100 suspects, but acknowledge there's no clear motive for the grisly slayings.

Justice Minister Muladi blamed the mayhem on the sorcerers themselves and said that anyone who openly claims they can kill or hurt others with black magic should be punished. "That would be one way to resolve the witchcraft issue," added Muladi.

The commander of the Indonesian armed forces said that he had ordered police to bring an end to the mayhem According to Lieutenant-Colonel Isnarno, lynchings have increased as locals, tired of the failure of the police to solve the killings, have started to attack anyone suspected of being involved in the murder spree. Police say at least 10 murder suspects have been killed in east Java alone.

Indonesia's military -- though suspected of being involved in the killings -- has pledged to solve the mystery behind the wave of gruesome murders asap. Analysts have pointed to the butchery as another sign of the lawlessness that hit Indonesia after the economic and political crisis that led to the downfall of President Suharto in May.