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Asian religious leaders concerned by Jakarta attacks

Concerted effort across religions and societies needed to help end terrorism, they say
Asian religious leaders concerned by Jakarta attacks

Indonesian police take position behind a vehicle as they pursue suspects after a series of blasts hit the Indonesia capital Jakarta on Jan. 14. (Photo by Bay Ismoyo/AFP)

Published: January 15, 2016 11:53 AM GMT
Updated: January 15, 2016 12:13 PM GMT

Church leaders across Asia have condemned the attack in Jakarta and are calling for a concerted effort across religions and societies to help end the scourge of terrorism.

"We have to work hand in hand to protect our people, particularly our young people, from any ideology that can harm society," Father Paulus Christian Siswantoko, executive secretary of the Indonesian bishops commission for justice, peace and pastoral for migrant people, told ucanews.com.

A series of explosions and gunfire outside a Central Jakarta department store on Jan. 14 rocked the Indonesian capital killing at least seven people, five perpetrators and three civilians. At least 20 people were injured, including five policemen.

The terrorist group known as the Islamic State, or IS, claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Ridwan Habib, a defense and intelligence analyst from the state-run University of Indonesia, told ucanews.com that the attacks signal the presence of IS in Indonesia.

The bishops conference has not issued an statement about the attack yet but “we at the commission see the incident as being a lesson for us,” said Father Siswantoko.


Terrorism has penetrated society

This is because terrorism has penetrated society and therefore all social elements must work together to protect society, he added.

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

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

Earlier, Ansyaad Mbai, the former director of Indonesia's counterterrorism agency, told ucanews.com that Indonesians must not "fall asleep" when it comes to terrorism because there are already radical groups that promote violence against minority religions.

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

Indonesia is no stranger to terrorist related violence. In 2002, a series of bombings took place in Kuta, killing 209 people, mostly foreign tourists and injured hundreds.

In the Philippines, which has also witnessed years of violence by the radical group Abu Sayyaf in Mindanao, the attack in Jakarta has caused "high concern" among Christians there.


Security officers secure central Jakarta where bombings and shootings took place on Jan. 14. (Photo by Siktus Harson)


"The fear is there," said Father Angel Calvo, a Spanish-born missionary, who has been active in Christian-Muslim peace and reconciliation efforts in Mindanao over the past 30 years.

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," said Father Calvo who also heads the Zamboanga-Basilan Integrated Development Alliance that promotes development projects in Muslim areas of the region.

The missionary said it is "possible that [extremist groups] are already reaching 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.


Initiate dialogue, restore peace

In Pakistan, where terrorism is a major factor of daily life, Father Khalid Yousaf, acting executive secretary of the bishops' 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 adding “we understand the grief that the Indonesians are feeling as we in Pakistan have been facing a similar situation for over a decade."

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

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

"The IS issue is an international one and it is beyond our understanding but we need to be careful and prepare for it," Reverend Shwe Lin told ucanews.com. Buddhist-majority Myanmar has 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 radicalized," Father Maurice Nyunt Wai, executive secretary of Myanmar Bishops conference told ucanews.com.

Brig. Gen. Kyaw Zan Myint, deputy home affairs minister, reportedly told parliament recently that government and religious buildings, factories and bridges, were under special protective surveillance to thwart any terror attacks.

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