Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Indonesia: Police detain 59 Moslem radicals

Chances are they won't be held very long. They attacked attendees of a "peaceful rally for religious tolerance" with bamboo sticks.

How very Moslem of them.

Police said the pre-dawn operation involving more than 1,000 officers was in response to Sunday's attack at the Monas national monument in Jakarta by stick-wielding fanatics from the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI).

"Fifty nine people, including the head of FPI, Rizieq Shihab, were taken to the Jakarta police headquarters for questioning in relation to the incident in Monas on Sunday," Jakarta police chief I Ketut Untung Yoga Ana told AFP.

The Indonesian government under President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono had come under strong pressure to act against the radicals after police failed to stop them beating scores of people with bamboo sticks at the rally.

Hundreds of radicals took part in the unprovoked attack, underlining the government's unwillingness to rein in fringe extremist groups in the world's most populous Muslim country.

But with the sense of outrage brewing...

among moderate Indonesians, the police late Monday issued an ultimatum for the radicals to hand over 10 suspects by midnight or face action.

Scores of officers sealed off their neighbourhood around the Front's central Jakarta headquarters but they encountered little resistance and television stations showed images of detainees being calmly led onto police trucks.

Only three days ago FPI leader Shihab had held a press conference to announce that his followers would resist arrest "until our last drop of blood" but as police moved in Wednesday he called for calm.

"Please, there should be no one obstructing the duties of these policemen," he told supporters at the scene.

"Let us show that we dare to act and dare to take the responsibility for that," he added before leaving voluntarily for the police station.

Shihab filed complaints Tuesday against 289 people who had signed a petition in support of religious tolerance, a burning issue in traditionally pluralist Indonesia ahead of elections next year.

A day after the attack he announced that his supporters were preparing for war against the minority Ahmadiyah Islamic sect, which the government is considering banning for its "deviant" beliefs.

Yudhoyono has not publicly indicated which way he will go on the Ahmadiyah issue but he has strongly condemned Sunday's attack and told ministers to examine options for banning the FPI.

As public anger grew, youths affiliated with the party of former president Abdurrahman Wahid raided several regional FPI offices in East Java and demanded the group end its activities, reports said.

Hundreds of protesters reportedly burned FPI flags and other insignia in several towns in East Java, a stronghold of Wahid who has been a vocal critic of the group.

The Front's militants have been involved in several violent vigilante assaults in what they see as the defence of Islam since 2000.

In 2006 they targeted the US embassy and the office of US magazine Playboy in Jakarta, but the worst incident came four years earlier when about 650 FPI fanatics rampaged through Jakarta nightspots and billiard halls. The group was set up with the backing of a number of Suharto-era generals and is said to retain close contacts with elements of the security forces.