By Stefan J. Bos, Special Correspondent
Those detained include firebrand Islamic cleric Rizieq Shihab who was captured over the weekend on “suspicion of breaching coronavirus restrictions.”
Authorities referred to several mass gatherings since his return from self-exile last month. The controversial and politically influential cleric has called for a “moral revolution” since returning on November 10. That raised tensions with President Joko Widodo in the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country.
The arrest came after six members of his Islamic Defender’s Front (FPI) were killed on Monday in a shootout with police investigating the violation of coronavirus protocols amid rising infections and deaths.
They were shot dead in the early hours of December 7 in a key toll road in Jakarta, Christians knowing the area told Worthy News. Police said the militants were killed after they attacked police personnel on the Jakarta-Cikampek toll road.
Separately police detained a vital leader of the al-Qaida-linked extremist group, which carried out the 2002 Bali bombings. Some 202 people, including 88 Australians, were killed in the attack.
The militant was also believed to be involved in other deadly attacks. Police in Indonesia said they detained a “senior leader” of the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) terror group last week on Thursday for his alleged role in the Bali bloodshed.
After 18 years on the run, the 57-year-old Zulkarnaen was detained, without resistance, in Lampung on Sumatra island by anti-terrorism police, police spokesman Ahmad Ramadhan said.
The arrests come amid concerns among Christians about rising Islamic extremism ahead of Christmas after four Christians were killed in a terror attack on the Salvation Army church and service building in Indonesia’s Central Sulawesi province.
Six nearby houses of church members were also torched in the November 28 attack in the province’s Sigi Regency area in Lembantongoa village.
Elsewhere in Indonesia, Christians also face reported pressure in their work.
At least one Christian food company was recently banned from joining a Muslim-dominated branch organization in North Sumatra province.
President Widodo has pledged reforms, but hardline Muslim authorities or groups remain very vocal and active in numerous areas of this archipelago of 267 million people.
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