Indonesia has deployed almost 180,000 police officers to guard churches and public places against terrorist attack over the Christmas period – a heightened time of risk from Islamist extremist attacks.
It follows the arrest this month of dozens of suspected members of the Islamist terror group Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), which aims to establish a caliphate across south-east Asia.
This group carried out a wave of coordinated attacks on churches on Christmas Eve 2000, killing 19 people when worship services were targeted in Jakarta, Bekasi, Medan, Sukabumi, Mojokerto, Bandung, and on Batam Island and Lomok.
Indonesia’s assistant national police chief Imam Sugianto said on 21 December 2021 that 177,212 police officers, supported by additional military personnel, are taking part in this year’s security operation to protect churches, shopping malls and tourist attractions over Christmas until 2 January 2022 (New Year is often wrongly perceived in non-Western countries as a Christian festival).
Operation Candle will see a “heavy” police presence at churches that were previously targeted by jihadists, he added.
These will include three churches in Surabaya, on the island of Java, where 13 people were killed in May 2018 when early morning worship services were targeted by Islamic suicide bombers, and a church in Makassar on the island of Sulawesi, where 19 people were injured when it was attacked by two suicide bombers on Palm Sunday 2021.
Indonesia is home to the world’s largest Muslim population and Christians comprise at least 15%. Until a generation ago, Muslims and Christians lived peaceably as equals on the archipelago in accordance with the state-promoted philosophy “Pancasila”, but since the 1980s the role of Islam in public life has increased, as has violence against Christians.