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Indonesian cleric's stabbing sparks review of past attacks

Widodo calls for probes after yet another assailant is claimed to be mentally ill

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Indonesian cleric's stabbing sparks review of past attacks

Indonesian President Joke Widodo has called for a review of attacks on Muslim clerics following doubts the attackers were really mentally ill. (Photo courtesy of Ibrahim/Cabinet Secretariat)

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Indonesian President Joko Widodo has called for a review of past attacks on Muslim clerics to try and determine whether they were carried out by mentally ill people as claimed or the work of extremist groups.

The call follows the Sept. 13 stabbing of a prominent Muslim preacher by a man whose family claimed he was suffering from a mental illness.

Syekh Ali Jaber, a 44-year-old Saudi-born cleric, was stabbed in the shoulder by Alfin Andrian while giving a sermon at a mosque in Bandar Lampung, capital of Lampung province.

Despite the family claiming Andrian was mentally unstable, the police and the National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT) are still investigating the possible involvement of a terror network.

“I have received a message from the president that the BNPT, police and intelligence agencies should look at previous attacks on ulemas [clerics],” Security Minister Mahfud MD told journalists on Sept. 16.

“Similar attacks occurred in 2016, 2017 and 2018. The perpetrators were also claimed to have suffered from mental illness,” he said, adding that these explanations appear to have been accepted at the time.

At least two cases occurred in 2018.

Hakam Mubarok, who ran an Islamic boarding school in East Java’s Lamongan district, and Umar Basri from another Islamic school in Bandung, West Java, were both attacked and injured by men thought to be mentally unstable.

Mahfud said the government suspects these and the recent attack follow a similar pattern.

“Whether or not they were planned by the same people, we will look into this,” he said.

“The perpetrators all lived close to the scene of the attacks, about 300-500 meters away, seemed to have scouted the scene beforehand and associated with yet to be identified people.” 

Stanislaus Riyanta, an intelligence analyst from the University of Indonesia, agreed a review was needed as continuous claims that assailants were mentally ill appeared implausible.

“These cases need to be reviewed so that there will be no polemics. It is because there are already wild theories that the attacks were by communists,” he told UCA News.

According to him, people doubt whether such attacks were carried out by individuals claiming to be suffering from mental illness. “People with mental illness cannot be put on trial,” he said.

He also suggested that people should inform the police if they have evidence that the perpetrators of such attacks are not mentally ill individuals.

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