Security upped as Christmas Eve attacks planned

Indonesian police have stepped up security at churches around the country following revelations that Muslim militants behind recent bombings in Makassar were planning more attacks that were to peak on Christmas Eve.

The plot is eerily reminiscent of a series of bombings on churches two years ago that killed 19 people.An explosive device, described as a ‘low-explosive’ bomb with no detonator, was found lying near a church in Makassar, South Sulawesi, on Friday.

Against a backdrop of concern over deteriorating security in the country, police yesterday tightened the screws on militants by arresting four more suspects in the Dec 5 Makassar bomb attacks on a McDonald’s restaurant and car dealership.

In another significant development, Muslim cleric Abu Bakar Bashir was moved to a jail cell, ending nearly two months of hospital detention.

Officials said the alleged spiritual leader of the Jemaah Islamiah terrorist network was fit enough to be transferred to the police headquarters where investigations will resume over his role in the Christmas Eve bombings in 2000 and a plot to kill President Megawati Sukarnoputri.

Bashir’s lawyers said yesterday that their client would refuse to be interrogated. But analysts here believe that the police are gaining the upper hand in the stand-off.

They say the move to transfer Bashir underscores growing confidence that the police have gathered enough evidence to charge him and even link him to the Bali bombings, following the confessions of two suspects who said he played a key role in the Oct 12 attack.

A police general told The Sunday Times: ‘We believe that we have a strong case against Bashir.’

He said the Bali bombings and explosions in South Sulawesi were a ‘blessing in disguise’ because they helped to expose anextensive terrorist network across Indonesia.

‘The worms are now out of the can. They were planning an even larger-scale attack against several churches in the country. That is why we are stepping up security.’

Police have not established a clear link between the Bali and Makassar blasts, but are not ruling out a connection. They have arrested 11 people in connection with the Makassar attacks and are searching for four more.

Investigators are focusing on hardline Islamic group Laskar Jundullah, which has been linked to the JI.

Police said that they found incriminating evidence in the homes of Laskar Jundullah members, including sketches of a church the group had reportedly planned to bomb in the South Sulawesi town of Toraja.

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