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Indonesia Increases Security Ahead of Christmas Holiday


Indonesian security forces increased security across the archipelago as Christians in this Muslim majority country prepare to celebrate the Christmas holiday. VOA's Nancy-Amelia Collins in Jakarta has more.

Officials have tightened security at churches, malls, and tourism sites as Christians prepare to celebrate Christmas in Indonesia, a secular nation with the world's largest population of Muslims.

More soldiers and policemen are visible, bags are checked at entrances and exits, and cars are checked for the possible carrying of explosive devices.

As the strains of Christmas music play at this mall in Jakarta, Ika brings her young child to see Santa Claus. She says security is always a concern during Christmas, but she is confident all necessary precautions have been taken.

"We believe that our church has already given us, has provide a good security system and we tend to be prepared. Like we do not go on the Christmas night, but instead we go on the morning mass on the 25th, so it's more or less like anticipating things," she said.

The Southeast Asia terrorist network Jemaah Islamiyah, or JI, has been blamed for a series of bombings in Indonesia that have claimed the lives of over 200 people.

These attacks include the church bombings across the country on Christmas Eve in 2000, the bombing of the JW Mariott Hotel and outside the Australian embassy in Jakarta in 2004, and the bombings in Bali in 2002 and 2005.

Indonesian authorities have arrested and prosecuted over 300 Islamic militants for the roles they played in these terrorist attacks and two of the 2002 Bali bombers are currently on death row waiting execution.

Ken Conboy, an author and expert on JI, notes there has not been a terrorist attack in Indonesia in more than two years but says extra security during the Christmas holidays is needed as a precaution.

"There has been a history on years past of either attempted or terrorist type acts in the capital but we're going on two plus years now without any kind of Jemaah Islamiyah type of attack, that's not too bad," Conboy said. "I asked around just this past week to some of the security officials I know and they said they've got no breaking news on any imminent threat in the capital. They're going to be cautious, they're just doing it as a precaution that's become standard now."

Officials say the extra security forces, which include extra police and military personnel, will remain in place until after the New Year celebration.