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Indonesia Reinforces Security as Religious Killings Rise - 2003-11-17

Indonesia has sent extra security personnel to the island of Sulawesi.

Police around the town of Poso on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi are on alert as tension between Christians and Muslims mounts. The most recent violence began a month ago when 12 Christians were killed by a group of unidentified gunmen.

Police moved fast to contain the problem, killing seven suspects and arresting 19. But Sunday, a mob of about 1,000 people surrounded the Poso police station, protesting the deaths and arrests. The crowd pulled at least one man from a passing bus and beat him to death.

On Saturday, the bodies of a Christian minister and his driver were found in a river, but the cause of death has not been confirmed.

"Even by looking simply at who the victims are, it is clear there is an effort by Islamic groups to try and mobilize efforts for Jihad again," said Sidney Jones, the head of the Indonesia office of the International Crisis Group and an analyst of religious conflict. "I do not think there is any question that that is what is taking place."

Poso has seen bitter conflict between Christians and Muslims before. Between 1999 and 2002, more than 1,000 people were killed as religious hatred was fanned by Islamic hardliners flooding the area, ostensibly to protect their co-religionists.

The government mediated an uneasy truce in December 2001, but observers are warning that Islamic militants are stirring again. Ms. Jones said a number of groups may be involved, including the regional terror group Jemaah Islamiyah, which was behind the terrorist bombings of a Bali nightclub last year and a U.S.-run hotel in Jakarta earlier this year.

Meanwhile, the man convicted of planning the Bali bombing lost his court appeal against a death sentence. Imam Samudra was convicted in September and is believed one of the leaders of the Jemaah Islamiyah group.

In a separate case, prosecutors are asking for a 20-year sentence for a man who allegedly planned the McDonald's restaurant bombing that killed three people in south Sulawesi last December. The judges are expected to rule next month.