Indonesian police track down men who beheaded three Christian school girls

Dozens of investigators combed the hills with sniffer dogs Tuesday, searching for clues about the masked assailants who beheaded three Christian school girls and wounded a fourth. Religious leaders and residents in the tense province of Central Sulawesi said they wanted answers, and soon.

Authorities worry that Saturday's attack outside Poso, a town long plagued by Muslim-Christian violence, could spark retaliatory acts just as relations between the two communities are improving.

The region was on high alert Tuesday with 1,500 soldiers and police deployed on street corners and at traditional markets, mosques, churches and schools.

Capt. Idham Mahdi, Poso's chief detective, said it was too early to say who was behind the killings, though suspicion has fallen on Islamic militants seeking to destabilize the region. Four dozen detectives and forensic experts were trying to re-enact the events leading up to the crime, he said.

Sniffer dogs led them to the rugged hills overlooking the cocoa plantation where the teenagers were murdered while walking to their Christian high school, just outside of Poso.

"We believe the perpetrators may have been watching the girls from the hill before they attacked them," said Mahdi, adding that authorities also found a backpack that allegedly belonged to the assailants. It contained only a key chain.

Though he vowed to hunt down the killers and bring them to justice, authorities in the world's most populous Muslim nation have long been accused of not taking the conflict in Poso seriously, because so many of the victims are Christian.

Religious leaders said Tuesday it should not be that hard to prevent communal violence in a town of just 6,000 inhabitants.

Despite a heavy police presence, there have been numerous bomb attacks and assassinations since a 2002 truce ended a bloody sectarian war that killed around 1,000 people, and almost no arrests. They included an attack on a market in May that killed 22 people, most of them Christians. A bomb planted on a minibus packed with Christian passengers last week wounded one.

"Why can't they stop the killings?" asked Eriyanto Kongkoli, a reverend and the Secretary General of Central Sulawesi Christian Church, reports the AP. I.L.

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