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Indonesia Starts Massive Security Operation for Christmas

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The authorities in Indonesia are running a massive security operation to protect churches and other places of worship from attack over Christmas. A number of foreign embassies have warned of an increased probability of attack over the festive season.

Indonesia has mobilized more than 140,000 police to guard churches, malls and hotels from attacks by Islamic militants.

Four years ago, members of the regional terrorist organization Jemaah Islamiyah launched a series of coordinated attacks against churches across the country, killing 19 people. Security analysts fear that the militants might be planning more attacks this year.

The police have put up banners outside churches in Jakarta telling people not to park in front of the buildings - a measure to prevent car bomb attacks.

Last week, the Australian Foreign Ministry issued a warning to its citizens, saying it has received credible intelligence that extremists are planning an attack against Western targets in Indonesia.

But Christian communities throughout Indonesia are determined not to let the threats stop them celebrating. The Reverend Dale Appleby is the vicar of All Saint's Church in Jakarta. He says some expatriate newcomers are nervous, but most foreigners in Jakarta have learned to live with the threats. But he says Indonesian Christians in parts of the archipelago are in danger.

"The Indonesian Christians - in some places it will be quite dangerous for them because there's been sustained attacks, particularly in Sulawesi," said Reverend Appleby. "So some of them will genuinely be afraid I think, but generally Christians have kept going, this is life."

The dangers are real: a pastor in the province of Central Sulawesi was killed Thursday, just the latest casualty in the religious violence in the province.

Indonesia has the world's largest Muslim population, but it also has more than 18 million Christians. Historically, the two communities have co-existed peacefully, but in recent years radicals on both sides of the divide have tried to drive a wedge between them, leading to bitter religious conflicts in various parts of the vast Indonesian archipelago.

The country's new president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, says that promoting inter-religious harmony is high on his administration's agenda. He is heading to Indonesia's easternmost province of Papua to celebrate Christmas with some of the province's Christians.
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