Indonesia is under a state of high alert after police say they foiled a plot to blow up a church as worshippers gathered for Good Friday services.
On Friday, the police said they had arrested 19 suspects and a day earlier defused five bombs around the Christ Cathedral in the Jakarta suburb of Tangerang. The bombs had been set to go off at 9 a.m. on Friday, when the church would have been filled with worshippers on one of Christianity's holiest days.
National Police spokesman Anton Bachrul Alam says the plotters had intended to film the blast and then post it on Islamic militant Internet sites. Thousands of police officers have been called in to guard churches over Christian holy days including Easter.
Indonesia has the world's largest Muslim population, at more than 200 million people, most of whom practice a moderate form of the religion. It has a secular government and guarantees religious freedom. However, it has battled Islamic militancy for more than a decade. In the past few years, there have been increasing reports of attacks on religious minority groups.
Police say some of the men arrested also are suspects in a series of mail bombings sent to public figures and Muslim leaders who had condemned sectarian violence and urged the government to do more to ensure religious freedom. Most of the bombs were defused without causing injuries.
The police spokesman says the suspects appear to be members of a new cell of militants.
The group known as Jemaah Islamiyah, which wants to create a strict Islamic state across much of Southeast Asia, was responsible for scores of bombings across the country in the last decade, including blasts on the tourist island of Bali that killed more than 200 people. Jemaah Islamiyah generally targeted areas where Westerners might gather, including hotels and churches. The Indonesian government has aggressively captured and tried suspected JI followers, and many are in prison.
A recent report by the International Crisis Group, a conflict-resolution organization, says that Indonesian militants are shifting strategy, and many are operating in small groups that favor targeted attacks against the police, religious minority groups and officials who disagree with them. Last week, a suicide bomber detonated a bomb at a mosque inside a police compound, the first attack on a mosque in the country.
Over the next few days, Indonesian Christians, like others around the world, will be commemorating the crucifixion of Jesus.
Article by VOA News