Christians Fear Further Church Bombings as Terror Campaign Intensifies

Friday, August 8, 2003

by Samuel Rinaldo

JAKARTA (Compass) -- The bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Jakarta on August 5 has contributed to fears of a rising wave of terrorism in Indonesia. The attack on the hotel was the fifth bombing incident since January 2003.

The Christian community is a particular target. Members of the terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah, currently on trial for last October’s bombing that killed 202 people in a popular tourist district on the island of Bali, have admitted their involvement in previous bombing raids on churches.

On July 26, police found 18 homemade bombs and 10 kilograms of ammonium nitrate -- materials similar to those used in the Bali bombing -- in a rented house in Gorontalo, Indonesia. This is the third discovery of explosives in two weeks on the island of Sulawesi.

In one of the raids, police also found information on church worship services in Jakarta, raising fears of renewed attacks on Christians.

Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), the Al-Qaeda-linked terrorist group blamed for the Bali bombings, is believed to have stockpiled approximately four tons of explosives in Indonesia in recent months.

According to reports in the Jakarta Post, almost 200 JI operatives were arrested in recent weeks. However, another 3,000 fully trained JI terrorists are still at large in Indonesia. A key JI member, the master bomb maker Fathurrohman al-Ghozi, managed to escape from his prison cell in the Philippines on July 14.

In a raid in Semarang on July 9, police seized a huge cache of ammunition and bomb-making supplies, including a large supply of firearms, 1,000 manual detonators, 25 electronic detonators, 30 packages (900 kilograms) of potassium chlorate, four boxes (160 kilograms) of TNT and 65 high explosive detonators.

Maps and documents found with the ammunition included worship schedules for the Tiberias Indonesia Church and the Indonesian Bethel Church in Jakarta. Christians now fear a new round of attacks against churches. Members of JI were responsible for a series of church bombings in December 2000 that killed 19 people and injured many others. The attack on Christmas Eve 2001 is also attributed to them.

During a court session at the Bali bombing trial in Denpasar on July 9, Ali Imron, a member of the JI, admitted his involvement in the December 2000 bombings. JI members assembled bombs weighing approximately three kilograms for the attacks on 14 different churches in Batam, Mojokerto and Jakarta.

In a teleconference trial on June 26, three witnesses identified Abu Bakar Ba’asyir as the leader of the JI. According to these witnesses, Ba’asyir approved the December 2000 church bombings. He also wanted to kill President Megawati Sukarnoputri because, in his own words, she gave “too much” support to Christianity.

The church bombing a year later occurred in the town of Palu on Christmas Eve 2001, just a few weeks after the signing of the controversial Malino Peace Accord. According to sources, a Muslim signatory of the peace accord ordered the bombing. The man was later convicted and received a six-month jail sentence for his part in the attack.

Hashim Bin Abbas, another key leader of the JI, shares the dream to establish an Islamic state in Indonesia. “The Philippines is our training area, Malaysia is our fundraising area and Indonesia is the place of jihad,” Bin Abbas once said in a press conference. The goal of JI is to build the Negara Islam Indonesia -- a totally Islamic state governed by sharia (Islamic) law.

In the first two weeks of July, police arrested nine suspected members of the JI in Bekasi, Jakarta and Semarang. “These men graduated from the Moro Muslim Military Academy in the southern Philippines,” said Erwin Mappaseng, head of the Criminal Detective Bureau of the National Police. Many other members of the JI are either in court facing trial or in hiding. However, five new men have moved up to take the places of previous leaders in the terrorist network.

As a senior Indonesian official told reporters at the Straits Times, “All indications point to an attempt by the new leadership to try to carry out a Bali-style operation in Indonesia or the region in the next few months, to make the point that they are still alive. We may have arrested several of their members, but the network is far from being crippled.”

However, a Religious Freedom report issued by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor in 2002 indicates there are few convictions on the charge of proselytism. An attorney filed a case against the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) and the United Missions to Nepal (UMN) in 1999. However, hearings were delayed several times. In April 2001, a similar case filed against the UMN was dismissed by the Supreme Court on the following day.

Meanwhile, Christians continue to pray for peace in their nation. A report from BBC news on July 29 said the government hoped to resume peace talks with the Maoists by mid August. To date, the conflict with the Maoist insurgents has claimed at least 7,000 lives.