A soldier monitors security at St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral in Jakarta at Easter. (Photo by Konradus Epa/ucanews)
Indonesian bishops have called on Catholics to beef up security during weekend Masses following a warning by the national police chief of possible terrorist attacks on churches ahead of the presidential inauguration.
President Joko Widodo and Vice President Ma’ruf Amin will be sworn in on Oct. 20 in Jakarta, but the ceremony is being delayed until the afternoon to allow Christians to attend Sunday Mass in in the morning.
In recent weeks, police have arrested 36 members of Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD), which was implicated in previous church attacks and is affiliated to Islamic State. It is through this group that officers learned about further plots to attack public facilities, including churches.
The police have deployed about 30,000 personnel to secure vital venues in Jakarta.
Archbishop Vincentius Sensi Potokota of Ende, who heads the Indonesian bishops’ Commission for the Laity, said there had already been warning signs, including a recent attack on a minister and the arrest of suspected terrorists.
Take sensible precautions
He urged worshippers to be vigilant. “We are all confident in the security provided by the authorities,” he said, “but we also need to internally protect our churches, for example by preventing or alerting the presence of suspicious people, maximizing churches’ security units, coordinating with local security forces, updating emergency hotlines and activating CCTVs if any.”
Father Paulus Christian Siswantoko, the commission’s executive secretary, said Catholic churchgoers need to independently secure their churches and monitor everyone who entered.
“This appeal should not frighten us but it serves as a reminder to be aware of the security threat,” he said.
The parish council of St. Arnoldus Parish in Bekasi, West Java, which is in Jakarta Archdiocese, also appealed to Catholics to maintain security at their churches.
“We appeal to Catholics not to bring big bags into church, and all congregation should be checked with metal detectors,” the council said.
Densus 88, an Indonesian Special Forces counter-terrorism squad, has in recent weeks arrested alleged terrorists in Java and Sumatra after finding many bombs in their houses.
In Cirebon, West Java, police found bombs containing poisonous chemical substances such as methanol, urea fertilizer and abrin poison. It was thought they had been stored in readiness for planned attacks on police officers and places of worship.
“High explosives mixed with poisonous chemicals can kill 100 people,” said police spokesman Brig. Gen. Dedi Prasetyo.
He also declared that police had intelligence that suicide bombers were preparing attacks on the police headquarters and houses of worship in the cities of Yogyakarta and Surakarta in Central Java.