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Heavily armed rebel behind capture of ex-Jetstar pilot is a ‘psychopath’ terrorist responsible for massacre of 31 people in lawless region on Australia’s doorstep
- NZ pilot Phillip Mehrtens hostage by ‘psychopath’ terrorist
- Wife, son and anxious friends pray ‘oh God have mercy’
- Rebel holding pilot’s hand waned for murder, rape and massacre of 31
The gumboot wearing rebel behind the capture of ex-Jetstar pilot in remote West Papua is a 23-year-old ‘psychopath’ terrorist whose violent separatist group is reportedly responsible for murder, rape and the massacre of 31 workers.
Phillip Mehrtens, 37, is being held hostage by the West Papua National Liberation Army or TPNPB (known locally as the KKB) after flying in to rescue construction workers threatened with death in the disputed Indonesian province.
He is the notorious group’s latest victim.
His anxious wife Maria and their son are praying for his release amid warnings the New Zealand-born pilot will ‘die here like the rest of us’ if Indonesian troops attempt to rescue him.
Worried friends have also posted on Instagram: ‘Pray for Phillip’ and ‘Oh God, have mercy’.
Friends and family of Phil Mehrtens (above with his wife Maria and their son) are facing an anxious wait as he is held in remote western Papua by violent separatist group KKB led by a ‘psychopath’ terrorist
The group’s leader, 23-year-old Egianus Kogoya (above holding hands with Phil Mehrtens in a ‘proof of life’ video) is regarded by some as a psychopath since he carried out the massacre of 31 workers while a teenager in 2018
The KKB is led by Egianus Kogoya, described by some as ‘a psychopath’, who took responsibility for an infamous 2018 massacre of building workers.
Kogoya held hands with Mr Mehrtens during a chilling ‘proof of life’ video in which rebels armed with machine guns, spears and bows and arrows called for the Indonesian military to leave the province.
The movement has fought a guerrilla war for the withdrawal of Indonesia from the province once known as Irian Jaya, which it has controlled since 1963 when it took over the Dutch occupied colony lucrative for its spices and slave trading.
Papua was incorporated into Indonesia in 1969 after a UN-sponsored referendum widely seen as a sham. Since then, a low-level insurgency has simmered in the mineral-rich region, which is divided into two provinces, Papua and West Papua.
The TPNPB released photographs and a video of Mr Mehrtens raising his fist as if in solidarity with them and saying in faltering Bahasa Indonesian language: ‘The Indonesian military must leave. If they don’t leave I will not be released’.
In English, the pilot said: ‘The Free Papua Movement has captured me. The Papuan military has taken me captive in the effort to fight for Papuan independence.
‘They have asked for the Indonesian military to go home back to Indonesia and if not I will remain captive or my life is threatened.’
Egianus Kogoya (above taking over Mr Mehrtens plane before setting it alight) and his KKB group are held responsible for 65 crimes since 2018, when they shot dead 15 building workers
Rebel leader Kogoya (above, right, with the Free Papua Movement’s banned morning star flag and clasping hostage Phil Mehrtens’s hand) stayed close to the abducted pilot after torching his plane and threatening to kill him
KKB fighters led by Kogoya poured fuel on the single-engined Susi Airlines aircraft and then set it alight, destroying Mr Mehrtens’ hopes of fleeing the remote West Papuan province
The separatist rebels from the West Papua Liberation Army, the armed wing of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP), seized Mr Mehrtens before setting fire to his plane on the runway (pictured)
Mr Mehrtens landed a single-engined Susi Air commercial passenger flight on a tiny airstrip in Paro, Nduga in the Papua Mountains on February 7, with Kogoya’s KKB fighters storming the plane shortly afterwards.
The aircraft was scheduled to pick up 15 workers Kogoya had threatened to kill, according to Nduga district chief Namia Gwijangge.
Kogoya was videoed attacking the cockpit of the plane before fuel was poured on the craft and it was set alight.
Nduga is the same region where the KKB accepted responsibility for the 2018 massacre of workers building a bridge who were taken hostage on Free Papua Day and shot dead.
The rebels then attacked Indonesian Army helicopters trying to evacuate survivors.
Papua Regional Police have recorded that in the past five years the KKB has committed 47 acts of shooting, eight of assault, three of massacre, two of arson as well as assaults, sexual assaults threats and murder.
In bizarre images and a videos, Phil Mehrtens is seens to supposedly raise his fist in solidarity with the Fre Papuan militants and demand Indonesia liberate them from its control
Phillip Mehrtens was kidnapped shortly after touching down in Paro in the remote West Papuan province of Nguda
On Susi Airlines’ Instagram page, fellow pilots and others posted hopes that a meeting would be held with the TPNPB and he would be recovered soon.
‘Hopefully the proud pilot of Susi Air will soon be found safe and the government can be braver with KKB terrorists,’ one supporter posted online.
However, one of the group’s fighters has repeated warnings Mr Mehrtens’ liberty depended on the Indonesian government withdrawing its troops and granting it independence.
‘We are taking the pilot and will only release him when Papua is free. If not the pilot will die with us in our territories with our commander, Egianus Kogoya, the fighter said, according to The Australian.
‘We will not release him unless we get freedom of Papua. Every country must open their eyes and acknowledge the freedom of Papua.
‘The military and police of Indonesia must not pursue us, if they do we will shoot the pilot.’
What is the West Papua Liberation Army?
The West Papua Liberation Army is the armed wing of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP).
Separatist rebels from the group have fought Indonesian control in the easternmost region of Papua since the early 1960s.
The group, which has child soldiers among its ranks, employs guerrilla tactics to target and destroy industrial buildings as a rejection of Indonesian-led development.
The Papuan fighters have never been well armed but have battled Indonesia since it took control of the mineral-rich region from the Dutch in 1962.
Papuans, who had declared their independence the year before, see Indonesians as invaders who cemented control with a UN-sponsored sham referendum at the end of the 1960s.
In another video, Kogoya personally insisted Mr Mehrtens is safe and urges the military not to launch a rescue operation.
‘I will … ensure his safety, so Indonesia should not use its arms from above or on the ground. If the pilot is with me, he’ll be safe,’ he said.
But Kogoya has previously lashed out, even at those politicians who claim to be fighting for the same cause, a free West Papua.
He has issued furious rebukes, saying at one point, ‘we are fighting desperately in the forest for an independent Papua, but those of you who live abroad claim to be diplomats, but only for the benefit of seeking profit from us’
His KKB group has warned any foreigners entering 12 declared war zones within the Papua Highlands and Central Papua provinces would be considered legitimate hostage targets.
A fellow pilot and former colleague told New Zealand’s Stuff news organisation that Mr Mehrtens, 37, had previously worked for Susi Air after finishing flight school in Christchurch, New Zealand, where he grew up.
After meeting his wife Maria in Indonesia, the couple returned to NZ and lived in Auckland where he worked for Jetstar and they began raising their son.
The Mehrtens returned to live in Indonesia when he recommenced employment with Susi Air, founded in 2004, which operates a fleet on 50 aircraft.
The rebels released all five of Mr Mehrtens’ passengers because they were indigenous Papuans, rebel spokesman Sebby Sambom said..
Flying is the only practical way of accessing many parts of the mountainous area, and the former colleague said Mr Mehrtens was flying ‘dangerous pathways’ with short runways on steep hills.
The fellow pilot said: ‘It shows how much of a family person he is, putting himself at risk to earn money to support his family.
‘Phil is the nicest guy, he genuinely is – no one ever had anything bad to say about him.’
The president of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua, Benny Wenda, sent his condolences to the family of Mr Mehrtens (above, pictured with terrorist leader Egianus Kogoya) for the troubles the abduction has caused them
Mr Mehrtens flew a single engine plane (pictured) to the Nduga region in order to remove 15 construction workers from the area after their lives were threatened by the rebels
Indonesia’s Coordinating Minister for Political, Security and Legal Affairs Mohammad Mahfud said the government was making every effort to persuade the rebels to release Mr Mehrtens ‘because the priority is the safety of the hostage.’
New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said in a statement: ‘We are aware of the photos and video circulating but won’t be commenting further at this stage.’
Papua police chief Mathius Fakhiri told reporters in Jayapura, the provincial capital, that they are seeking to obtain the pilot’s freedom by involving several community leaders, including tribal and church figures, to build communication and negotiate with the rebels.
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