12/24/2009, 00.00
INDONESIA

Indonesia, high alert for attacks on churches during Christmas celebrations

by Mathias Hariyadi
Tens of thousands of police and army units deployed to protect places of worship. Among the provinces considered most at risk the Central Java and West Java. In recent days, the Christian community has suffered threats and assaults. Father in-law of Noordin M. Top, one of the country's most wanted, captured.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) - Indonesian security forces have stepped up security across the country, a few hours ahead the start of Christmas celebrations. Police and soldiers are guarding the churches in the provinces considered most at risk, such as Central Java and West Java, but the state of alert is widespread. There is fears of a repeat of episodes of violence, similar to those of Christmas Eve of 2000. In recent days, in fact, some fundamentalist groups have attacked Christian places of worship, threatening the faithful.  

In the province of West Java police have mobilized over 10 thousand agents, as well as army troops.  Timur Pradopo, police chief of West Java, confirms "the massive deployment of police and army" to prevent "potential terrorist attacks." Similar measures were taken by Alex Bambang Riatmodjo, head of the security forces of Central Java. More than 11 thousand officers deployed, backed by the military.  

On Christmas Eve of 2000, terrorists targeted dozens of churches in Indonesia. But not only the threat of armed terrorism is curbing Christmas ceremonies. In West Java a number of Christian places of worship have been closed since 2004 due to the revocation of building permits. In Bandung, the provincial capital, hundreds of faithful "do not have a place" where they can celebrate Christmas functions.  

The latest case concerns the Purwakarta Regency, also in West Java, where Christians can not celebrate religious services because authorities have revoked their permits. Two weeks ago the whole of the Church of St. Albert, in Bekasi regency, was attacked by thousands of extremists on the occasion of the Islamic New Year.  

The lack of security has led groups of Christians in West Java to celebrate Christmas Mass in malls, hotels and restaurants, or in private homes. John Simon Timorason, president of the Federation of churches in West Java (Bksg), confirms that the decision is in result of "numerous obstacles encountered in the construction of churches."

Anti-terrorism teams, meanwhile, have arrested Baharuddin (aka Bariddin), the most wanted man in the country. He is the stepfather of Noordin M. Top, the Malaysian terrorist killed September 18, 2009 in a police raid, and was hiding in Garut, West Java. Tito Karnavian, head of the elite counter-terrorism department, states that "he was captured along with one of his sons”.  Both were transferred to Jakarta for questioning.

 

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