Indonesia: Government Reins in Laskar Jihad

Friday, May 10, 2002

In a shocking turn of events, the radical Laskar Jihad has been banned from the Moluccas and its combative leader placed under arrest.

Jafar Umar Thalib, head of the militant Laskar Jihad, was arrested and brought in for questioning by the Indonesia National Police when he landed at Surabaya on his way back to Jakarta from Ambon on May 4. He was charged with inciting Muslims to violence in the attack on Soya village, a 20-minute drive from Ambon City, April 28 in which 14 people were killed, about 30 homes of Christians burned, and the Soya Protestant church burned for the second time.

The violence in the Moluccas that has claimed 9000 lives and left 700,000 homeless since 1999 is not solely the result of local inter-religious violence. Outsiders are accused of fomenting the trouble.

A representative of the local council of bishops told the Jakarta Post that the perpetrators of the April 28 attack "didn't use the local language, and that no Ambonese would have the capability of destroying a village in such a short time."

The main outside group fomenting trouble in the Moluccas is said to be the Jakarta-based Laskar Jihad that declared war on Christians in the Moluccas in April 2000 and up until now moved throughout the region with impunity.

Thankfully for Christians, the government has now banned the Laskar Jihad from the Moluccas, although how the government will oversee its evacuation is another matter. It is estimated to have about 9,000 members, but no one knows how much actual support it has among Moluccan Muslims.

Local Christians and Muslims signed the Malino II peace accord brokered by the government on February 12, but Thalib denounced it. The accord called for Muslims and Christians to turn in their arms, and Christians of Soya village were among those that did that. But Thalib reportedly urged a crowd of several thousand at the Alfatah Mosque in Ambon April 26 to take up "guns and spears and daggers" and fight the Christians. The attack on Soya came about 36 hours later.

Then in a radio speech broadcast May 1-3 he told Maluku Muslims to "write out their wills...get out all your weapons...[and] fight against them [the Christians] to the last drop of blood." A complete English translation of the radio address is available on request from Christian Aid. Write and put MI-319 Thalib Speech on the subject line.

Some Muslim groups are protesting Thalib's detention, and are insisting that the Christian separatist movements, the FKM (Maluku Sovereignty Front) and the South Maluku Republic (RMS), first be disbanded. In addition, Vice President Hamaz Haz's visit to Thalib in prison lent him more legitimacy than he deserves and is causing a serious breach with President Magawati Sukarnoputri.

Meanwhile Christian Aid is assisting some of the hundreds of thousands of Christians displaced from their homes by the Moluccan violence by helping to provide food, clothing, medical help and simple family shelters. Persons wanting to help can contribute on line at or contact Previous issues of Missions Insider carry more background information.