JAKARTA, Indonesia – Three Islamic militants were found guilty Wednesday of decapitating three Christian schoolgirls in Indonesia and dumping their bloodied heads in nearby villages, judges said. They were sentenced to between 14 and 20 years.
The alleged members of the Al Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiyah network left a handwritten note close to the bodies, vowing more killings to avenge the deaths of Muslims in earlier sectarian violence on Sulawesi island.
"Wanted — 100 more heads," said Judge Lilik Mulyadi, reciting the letter's text. "Blood must be paid with blood, lives with lives, heads with heads."
Hasanuddin, 34, who goes by a single name, was sentenced to 20 years for masterminding the 2005 attack, and co-conspirators Lilik Purnomo, 28, and Irwanto Irano, 29, each got 14 years, he said.
Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation, has been hit by a string of terrorist attacks in recent years targeting local Christians and nightclubs, restaurants and foreign embassies.
But the grisly nature of the beheadings, which occurred as the children were cutting through a cocoa plantation on their way to school, gave fresh impetus to the country's war on terrorism and was followed by scores of arrests.
The three militants had faced a maximum penalty of death by firing squad, but judges ruled that they deserved some leniency for cooperating with authorities, confessing and showing remorse.
Siregar told the Central Jakarta District Court that Hasanuddin ordered the slayings and helped dumped their girls' heads in three Christian-dominated villages. Purnomo and Irano were found guilty of "ambushing and beheading" the teens, he said.
It was not immediately clear if the three convicts would appeal.
More than 90 percent of Indonesia's 220 million people are Muslims, but Central Sulawesi province — the scene of religious clashes that left at least 1,000 people dead from 1998 to 2002 — has a roughly equal number of Muslims and Christians.
A peace agreement ended the worst of the violence, but tensions flared after the 2005 beheadings and again in September 2006, after the execution of three Roman Catholic militants convicted of leading a 2000 attack on an Islamic school that killed up to 70 people.
In January, 15 alleged Islamic militants were killed in a gunbattle in Sulawesi. Several others were arrested, including three others who have confessed to taking part in the beheadings but have yet to be brought to trial.