Muslim groups join police to guard churches

Two Indonesian groups send a signal to extremists that they do not have the support of the moderate Muslim majority.

Two of Indonesia’s largest Muslim groups have joined forces with the police to provide security to churches, shopping malls and public entertainment spots during the holiday season.

Amid fears of a wave of attacks across the country, the Nadhlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah are deploying thousands of their members to guard churches and prevent a repeat of the Christmas Eve bombings in 2000 that killed 19 people.

Mr Hasyim Muzadi, chairman of the 40-million-strong NU, told The Straits Times that the decision underscored ‘common interests’ shared by not just Muslims, but also Christians and others in facing the terrorist scourge.

He said: ‘There is this misperception that Muslims in Indonesia are hostile to Christians. The radicals are giving us a bad name. They are a small group and do not represent Islam because their teachings are all flawed.

‘By protecting churches, we are sending a strong message to these extremists that they do not have the support of the moderate Muslim majority in Indonesia.’

He said that the NU had been following this practice for years.

But given the pervasiveness of the threat now, NU and other religious bodies had decided to work with the police to prevent any attempts to rock the country with bomb explosions.

He disclosed that he had deployed some 20,000 members of the NU youth wing in Jakarta, Semarang, Surabaya, Medan, Ujung Pandang, Sulawesi and Banjarmasin to safeguard church services for Christmas and the New Year period.

Some of them could also be drawn in to help police keep watch on shopping malls and public entertainment joints. Mr Hasyim said: ‘It is really up to the police. If they want us to send in more people to help them, we will do so.’

The largest concentration so far was in the NU base of East Java where 5,000 members of the paramilitary group Banser were already on standby to help security forces.

The Muhammadiyah group’s security command (Kokam) paramilitary wing had also deployed 400 members to take part in operations in East Java.

The region’s Kokam leader M. Mirdasy was quoted in local media reports yesterday as saying: ‘Muhammadiyah will send its task force to help ensure security in East Java. We don’t want bomb attacks to happen again in the province.’

In the South Sulawesi capital of Makassar, more than 750 mosque youth group members joined 2,400 police personnel in securing churches in the city.

Makassar police chief Jose Rizal said that they would guard some 229 possible targets in the city, including churches, entertainment spots and shopping centres.

He revealed that police had received at least seven bomb threats in the city since the Dec 5 bombings that killed three people.

The Jakarta Post, quoting South Sulawesi police sources, said that the leader of that attack, Agung Abdul Hamid, was on the run with at least four bombs which he could detonate anywhere.

Intelligence sources believe that if there were to be fresh attacks, these were likely to take place in the outlying provinces of Sumatra and eastern Indonesia.

But they maintained that it was going to be harder for the terrorists to strike given that the police had stepped up security in the country.

RADICALS GIVING US A BAD NAME

There is this misperception that Muslims in Indonesia are hostile to Christians.

The radicals are giving us a bad name. They are a small group and do not represent Islam because their teachings are all flawed. By protecting churches, we are sending a strong message to these extremists that they do not have the support of the moderate Muslim majority in Indonesia.’

– Mr Hasyim Muzadi, chairman of the 40-million-strong NU, which has deployed some 20,000 members of its youth wing to safeguard church services for Christmas and the New Year period.

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