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Indonesian forces on high alert amid Mindanao crisis

Indonesian religious leaders back security measures, pledge cooperation in wake of Islamist attack in neighboring Philippines

Indonesian forces on high alert amid Mindanao crisis

Blindfolded suspected self-styled Islamic State (IS) group members are transported in a police vehicle after being captured in a village in Marawi City on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao. Indonesian forces are looking to prevent any militants fleeing the fighting from entering Indonesia (Photo by Noel Celis/AFP)

Indonesian Christian and Muslim leaders are backing security measures by the military to block terrorists involved in clashes with Philippine security forces in the Mindanao city of Malawi from fleeing across the border into Indonesia.

Gunmen claiming to have links with the so-called Islamic State (IS) attacked Marawi on May 23, burning a Catholic church and a Protestant school, and kidnapping a Catholic priest.

The terrorists, belonging to the local Maute group, also reportedly killed nine Christians trying to escape fighting in the city.

Indonesians fear the terrorists could attempt to cross the border and enter Indonesia if they flee the embattled city.

To prevent them from doing so, Indonesia has sent warships to guard the maritime boundary.

Operation commander, General Gatot Nurmantyo, said the warships are patrolling from North Maluku to Central Sulawesi as well as in North Kalimantan and that intelligence operations have been conducted in areas near Mindanao.

"The church supports these moves. It would be very dangerous if IS-linked militants could enter our country," Bishop Petrus Canisius Mandagi of Amboina told ucanews.com on June 6.

The prelate also suggested that Catholics "should offer cooperation in this case," he said without elaborating.

Reverend Lamberti Mandagi, secretary-general of the General Synod of Churches in North and Central Sulawesi, said the situation across the border was a signal for all citizens to be more careful.

"We need to immediately inform authorities if we see anything untoward. Terrorism is the enemy of all religions in this country," he said, adding that his congregation would be ready to help if needed.

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Alwan Saputra, secretary-general of the North Kalimantan chapter of the Nahdlatul Ulama, the largest Islamic organization in Indonesia, expressed concern about militants already in Indonesia.

"Militants are already in some parts of Indonesia," he said, adding that the government should not let its guard down against these elements while the border situation was ongoing.

Al Chaidar, a terrorism expert from Malikussaleh University in Aceh, warned that Islamic State poses a "serious threat," saying there are an estimated 2 million IS supporters in Indonesia.

He also warned the government to also look inwards and not just at the situation in Mindanao.

Indonesian police said about 38 Indonesian citizens were thought to be involved in the Marawi attack.

Four have been reported killed, the Philippine government has arrested 12, and 22 are reportedly still in Marawi.

Around 600 Indonesians have fought for IS in Syria, according to Indonesian authorities.

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