Jose Belo and Michael Sainsbury, Dili
Updated: May 24, 2018 06:40 AM GMT
Timorese boys ride their bicycles in front of the cathedral church in Dili, in this file photo. Security has been stepped up following warnings of a terrorist threat to churches in Timor-Leste and the Catholic Bishop of Dili. (Photo by Candido Alves/AFP)
Police in the overwhelmingly Catholic nation of Timor-Leste have issued warnings about potential attacks by Islamic extremists on churches and even the capital city's prelate Bishop Virgilio do Carma da Silva of Dili.
There was a heavy police presence around churches and at the bishop's palace this week, including Sunday Masses, with both uniformed and plain-clothed officers armed with machine guns.
Bishop da Silva, the Dili prelate, is one of three bishops in Timor-Leste.
"I got an order from my commander in relation to a terrorist threat, so I went to Dili's [Immaculate Conception] Cathedral and some other churches in Dili to observe the situation surrounding Bishop Dili's residence," Dili's deputy police commander Euclides Belo said.
"I have told the security members to inform the National Police immediately if the see strange people near the bishop's residence," he said.
"We have also placed community police in villages around Dili. We have instructed them to keep an eye on the residences of parish priests and nuns and provide security for each church in this city, in light of what happened in Indonesia," Euclides said.
Church officials declined to comment but sources played down the threat.
Meanwhile, Armando Monteiro, the police commander in the border region of Maliana said, "we are working closely with the border police and East Timor defense force and intensifying our presence around the border with regard to the terrorist threat."
The concerns emerged ahead of the dismissal by the country's top court of a petition by Fretilin, the political party which lost power in the May 12 general election, to have votes in four districts recounted. This paves the way for the court to officially declare the result that saw the Alliance of Change and Progress (AMP), led by revolutionary hero, Xanana Gusmao, win a majority with 34 seats in the 65 seat legislature allowing it to govern in its own right.
Gusmao is a former president and prime minister of Timor Leste. AMP has yet to reveal who will lead the country once the court signs off on the result, but sources close to three party group have indicated that Gusmao will serve a third term as PM.
The terrorism warnings also comes only 11 days after members of a single family launched suicide attacks on three churches in Surabaya, Indonesia's second largest city in eastern Java.
While Christians make up a small minority in the neighboring majority Muslim nation, Timor-Leste which gained independence from Indonesia in 2002 is more than 80 percent Catholic. Much of the rest of the population are followers of a range of Protestant denominations.