CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 10 November 2018

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Terrorism attacks in Jakarta rekindle fears across Asia

JAKARTA (UCAN): The January 14 terrorist attack on the entertainment and shopping district of Jakarta in Indonesia has raised fears right across Asia.

The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack.

“We’re so concerned about the attacks. We strongly condemn such acts that ignore humanity and (cause) such terror among the Indonesian people,” Veronica Wiwiek Sulistyo, the chairperson of the Indonesia Catholic Society Forum, said.

“As an integral part of this nation, we call on the government to deal with the attacks properly. We hope that the government, through the police and military personnel, is able to protect all Indonesian people,” she said.

Sulistyo described the attacks as “a clear signal that shows how our intelligence officers work and how threats faced by this nation are related to the global terrorism network.”

Muhammad Iqbal, a senior commander and spokesperson for the Jakarta police, said that at least seven people were killed in the attacks, including the five of the perpetrators, two of whom were suicide bombers. In addition, at least 20 people were injured, including five police.

The president of Indonesia, Joko Widodo, expressed his sadness saying, “We all condemn such acts that shake up the people’s security and peace and that spark terror among the people.”

Father Paulus Christian Siswantoko, the executive secretary of the Indonesian Commission for Justice, Peace and Pastoral for Migrant People, said, “We have to work hand in hand to protect our people, particularly our young people, from any ideology that can harm society.”

Father Siswantoko added, “We at the commission see the incident as being a lesson for us.” 

He explained that the whole country now knows that terrorism has penetrated Indonesian society and therefore all social elements must work together to protect the people.

The Communion of Churches in Indonesia, an umbrella organisation of Protestant Churches, called on Christians in particular and Indonesian society in general not to let terrorism tear unity in the country apart.

“We must not surrender to all provocative actions that damage harmonious life,” it said in a statement.

Ridwan Habib, a defence and intelligence analyst from the state-run University of Indonesia, confirmed that the attacks are a signal of the presence of the Islamic State in Indonesia.

Earlier, Ansyaad Mbai, the former director of Indonesia’s counterterrorism agency, said that Indonesians must not fall asleep when it comes to terrorism, because radical groups that promote violence against minority religions have been active in the country for a long time.

The Indonesian coordinating minister for political and legal affairs, Luhut Binsar Panjaitan, revealed recently that about 800 Indonesians had travelled to Syria to join the Islamic State, but more than 100 have since returned home.

Unlike the Islamic State-influenced bombing of a Shia festival in Bangladesh or the beheading of a Malaysian national in The Philippines last year, the Islamic State in Indonesia had not previously shown its power publically, but Indonesia could now be sitting on a time bomb.

Early this year, Ansyaad Mbai, the former director of the anti-terrorism agency, uncovered 16 radical groups, including the East Indonesia Mujahideen that has declared its loyalty to the Islamic State leader, Abu Bakar Al-Baqdadi.

The East Indonesia Mujahideen is small in numbers, but has still managed to launch attacks on police and military posts in Poso in Central Sulawesi province.

Last year the anti-terror squad, Densus 88, arrested four Turkish nationals suspected of being Islamic State envoys. One of them, Santoso, is believed to have received financial support from the Islamic State to expand its influence in Indonesia.

Terrorism expert, Sidney Jones, warned that although the number of Islamic State-affiliated individuals in Indonesia is relatively small and has not carried out any significant activities, it has the potential to breed new followers and re-activate a terrorism seed that is still alive in Indonesia.

A survey carried out by Pew Research released in November last year makes Jones’ warning more relevant, as it revealed that 10 million Indonesians are sympathetic towards the cause of the Islamic State.

The Pew poll may have revealed the tip of an extremism iceberg that has been steadily growing since Suharto’s dictatorial regime ended in 1998, mostly through the Internet and social media which give a platform for the propaganda of subversive groups.

But since the Indonesian authorities have begun closely monitoring the movement of radical groups on the Internet and social media, the Islamic State has shifted its approach to meeting face-to-face with families trapped in poverty, promising them high incomes and better education.

Since most of the Islamic State-affiliated individuals or groups are unable to travel to Syria, due to tight travel restrictions, they stay home, simply waiting to see what they can do next. 

Analysts say they have not openly planned attacks, but in all probability are consolidating their power base.

Meanwhile, Tribunnews.com reported that the police in Bali have beefed up security on several public facilities in the Kuta area, as well as in Denpasar, the capital of Bali province, including the church of St. Francis Xavier.

In The Philippines, which has also witnessed years of violence from the Abu Sayyaf in Mindanao, the attack in Jakarta has caused high concern among Christians.

“The fear is there,” Spanish-born Father Angel Calvo, who has been active in Christian-Muslim peace and reconciliation efforts in Mindanao over the past 30 years, pointed out.

He said some priests in hinterland parishes have expressed apprehension that Islamist terror groups have already infiltrated some communities.

“We cannot say that we are totally safe,” Father Calvo, who also heads the Zamboanga-Basilan Integrated Development Alliance that promotes projects in Muslim areas of the region, said. He added that it is possible that extremist groups are already reaching into Mindanao.

“The alarm is really high,” he said, adding that news of possible attacks on civilian targets might raise animosity between Christians and Muslims in the region. “We have to be careful,” he said, adding that Church leaders are watching and waiting before issuing any statement.

In Pakistan, where terrorism is a major factor of daily life, Father Khalid Yousaf, the acting secretary of the Commission for Social Communications, condemned the terrorist attacks in Indonesia and expressed sympathy for the victims.

“We are praying for peace in Indonesia and the whole world,” he said. “We understand the grief that the Indonesians are feeling as we in Pakistan have been facing a similar situation for over a decade.”

Father Yousaf said that the only way to approach such groups and restore peace in the world is to initiate dialogue at every level.

While terrorism in the Union of Myanmar primarily consists of anti-government militant activity, Reverend Saw Shwe Lin, the general secretary of the Myanmar Council of Churches, said that the attack in Jakarta has raised much concern locally as it could happen in his country as well.

“The Islamic State issue is an international one and it is beyond our understanding, but we need to be careful and prepare for it,” Reverend Shwe Lin said. Buddhist-majority Myanmar has already witnessed anti-Muslim violence.

“There needs to be equal rights among all citizens. The more oppressed the minority, the more likely they are to be radicalised,” Father Maurice Nyunt Wai, the secretary of the Myanmar Bishops’ Conference, added.

A brigadier general, Kyaw Zan Myint, the deputy home affairs minister, was reported to have told the parliament in Naypyidaw that government and religious buildings, factories and bridges, have been placed under special protective surveillance to thwart any terror attacks.

 

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