Thousands welcome Islamist leader returning home from self-imposed exile in Saudi Arabia
by Mathias Hariyadi

A large crowd greeted Rizieq Shihab at Jakarta International Airport. He had fled in 2017 over pornography charges related to an alleged extra-marital affair. Before placing himself in quarantine because of COVID-19 rules, he announced un unspecified “moral revolution”.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) – The surprise arrival yesterday of Rizieq Shihab at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Cengkareng (Jakarta) is raising concerns in Indonesia.

The notorious Islamic Defender Front (FPI) leader was met by thousands of loyalists and sympathisers at Terminal 3 of the capital's airport, after a self-imposed exile in Saudi Arabia.

A sea of people prevented other passengers from reaching the airport to board their flights abroad.

In spite of COVID-19 restrictions, which have curbed traffic in the crowded and polluted city, queues of Shihab’s supporters jammed the roads leading to the airport.

Happy to see their leader back, overenthusiastic supporters even managed to damage airport facilities.

Police and security forces were deployed, albeit a bit late, to contain crowds and ensure public order and prevent acts of vandalism.

As soon as he landed, Shihab headed home in Petamburan, Petamburan sub-district, West Jakarta. Here too, the radical Islamic leader was met by many supporters who welcomed him singing and chanting slogans praising him.

Before going inside, he briefly spoke to the crowd announcing his intention to promote a so-called moral revolution.

The FPI leader did not elaborate as to what he meant, noting that he would speak after placing himself in quarantine in accordance with existing pandemic restrictions.

Rizieq Shihab, who led radical Islamists against the former Governor of Jakarta Ahok, a Christian, spent the last three and a half years in Saudi Arabia, in a self-imposed exile after he was accused of exchanging sexually explicit messages in violation of the 2006 Anti-Pornography Act.

He is alleged to have had an extra-marital affair with a woman. Their phone conversations became public knowledge without their "consent".

During his stay in Saudi Arabia, he repeatedly attacked Indonesian authorities for allegedly preventing him from returning home.

His absence from Indonesia was used as political propaganda, particularly by retired Army Lieutenant General Prabowo Subianto, who ran in 2019 presidential election against current President Joko Widodo.

The former top army officer repeatedly accused the president of blocking Shihab’s return, which became a "marketing ploy" during the election campaign to attract radical and extremist voter support. This did not help Subianto win the elections.

Now Indonesians will have to wait the end of Shihab’s quarantine to see what plans the FPI leader has in store.