Christmas guards for Indonesian churches

Moderate Muslim youth group to join security forces in a bid to foil any attempted Islamic terrorist attacks
Christmas guards for Indonesian churches

Indonesian police and military personnel attend a parade as part of preparation to secure Christmas and New Year celebrations at the National Monument in Jakarta on Nov. 30. (Photo by Konradus Epa/ucanews.com)

Nearly 50,000 churches across Indonesia, including some previously attacked by terrorists, are to be guarded during the Christmas period.

The massive operation is to involve more than 90,000 police and soldiers and a moderate Muslim youth group will join the protection effort.

National Police spokesperson Brig. Gen Dedi Prasetyo said that Christmas security this year will be focused on churches in 13 provinces, including on the main islands of Java and Sumatra as well as Bali, East Nusa Tenggara, North Sulawesi, Maluku and Papua.

The deployments would be to "anticipate" possible security threats, Prasetyo added.

Among the churches to be tightly secured is the Santa Maria Church in Surabaya, East Java, that was attacked by suicide bombers on May 13.

Also, previously attacked were Our Lady of the Assumption Cathedral Church in the capital, Jakarta, as well as churches in Sumatra, Java and West Nusa Tenggara provinces.

Francis Xavier Ping Tedja, security coordinator at Santa Maria Church, said about 70 police, military and members of Banser — the youth wing of Nahdlatul Ulama, the biggest moderate Muslim organization in Indonesia — will secure the church for Christmas.

"We have coordinated with police, military, and Islamic groups to maintain the security, so that Catholics can attend Christmas Masses comfortably and safely," he told ucanews.com on Dec. 17.

 In order to simplify police work, Catholics have been asked to not bring bags when they attend Christmas Masses.

"We hope Catholics will not be afraid to attend Christmas Masses at the church," he said.

Father Antonius Suyadi, chairman of the Jakarta Archdiocese's Ecumenical and Inter-religious Affairs Commission, said Christmas celebrations at the cathedral will be guarded by about 300 police and military personnel.

"Besides the cathedral church, police and military forces will also guard other Catholic churches in the archdiocese," said Father Suyadi.

The anti-terror squad — Densus 88 — arrested two terrorist suspects in Yogyakarta Dec. 11, who allegedly planned to attack during Christmas and New Year celebrations.

The police, however, did not elaborate their targeted facilities or locations.

According to Prasetyo, the two suspects were linked to a 'cooking-pot' bomb attack at a police building in Indramayu, West Java, in July this year.

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He said both were involved actively in Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD) a terror group with ties to the international terrorist group Islamic State.

Members of JAD were also connected to the attacks on churches in Surabaya, East Java, in May.

The two are still in police custody and information obtained from them was needed for use by the anti-terror team investigating their network, Prasetyo said.

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