1968: Harun Thohir and Usman Janatin, for the MacDonald House bombing

Add comment October 17th, 2016 Headsman

On this date in 1968, Indonesian Lance Corporal Harun Thohir and Sgt. Usman Janatin were hanged in Singapore for bombing the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank three years earlier.

Aptly, such confrontational behavior took place during the era of Konfrontasi, a running fight between Indonesia — feeling its oats as a regional power — and the British straits possessions that had just recently been amalgamated (to Indonesia’s irritation) into the new country Malaysia.

This wasn’t a “war” full of set-piece battles: think commando raids and jungle skirmishing instead. Initially confined to the island of Borneo of which Indonesia occupied three-quarters and coveted the remainder, the fight provocatively spilled to the “homeland” Malay Peninsula itself, including a number of saboteur bombings concentrated in Singapore — which was still a part of Malaysia in the early 1960s.

The most notorious and destructive of these was conducted on March 10, 1965, by our men Harun Thohir and Usman Janatir along with a third commando named Gani bin Arup. Tasked with bombing an electric station, they instead packed 12 kg of nitroglycerin into a bank — an iconic landmark that was at the time the tallest in its vicinity. The MacDonald House bombing killed three civilians and injured 133 more.

Gani bin Arup escaped successfully, but Janatin and Thohir suffered a motorboat breakdown and were apprehended. By the time their execution date arrived, a few things had changed: Singapore itself had been expelled from Malaysia to become an independent city-state; and, the Konfrontasi era had been dialed back with the deposition of Indonesian president Sukarno.

But the hanging still stayed on, and feelings ran understandably high for both the former antagonists.

The jurisdictional issue of most moment for the bombers was not the identity of the offended state, but their contention that they were regular armed forces members just following their orders and entitled to prisoner of war status. Jakarta was indignant at Singaporean courts’ dismissal of this angle; Singapore, well, it didn’t want to take a soft line on terrorists blowing up banks.


Headline in the Oct. 18, 1968 London Times, reporting “a crowd of 10,000 people who joined the procession to the war heroes’ cemetery here [Jakarta] carried banners proclaiming: ‘Declare total war on Singapore’, ‘Annihilate Singapore’, and ‘Hang Lee Kuan Yew‘.”

As is so often the case, one man’s terrorists are often another’s freedom fighters: the hanged marines remain today official national heroes in Indonesia, and in 2014 the navy created a diplomatic incident with Singapore by christening a Bung Tomo-class corvette the KRI Usman-Harun.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Guerrillas,Hanged,History,Indonesia,Malaysia,Martyrs,Murder,Ripped from the Headlines,Singapore,Soldiers,Terrorists

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