World News

Police arrest vigilantes for Indonesia church attack

JAKARTA (Reuters) - Indonesian police arrested the leader of an Islamic vigilante group on Wednesday for inciting an attack on church officials, in a case showing religious tensions still bubble near the surface in the officially secular nation.

Injured church priest Luspida Simanjutak lies in a hospital in Bekasi on the outskirts of Jakarta September 13, 2010. REUTERS/Crack Palinggi

Several men attacked a church elder and a priest from the Pondok Timur Batak Protestant Church as they were on their way to prayers on Sunday, stabbing one and hitting the other.

The attack followed a dispute between a protestant church group and hardline Muslim groups in Bekasi, a satellite town near Jakarta where many factories are based, over whether the group should be allowed to pray in that area.

Members of the Islamic Defenders Front, or FPI, a hardline group notorious for its attacks on bars and nightclubs and which had opposed the plans for a church in the Bekasi area, were suspected of involvement.

Police handling the case said they had detained 10 suspects, including Murhali Barda, head of the FPI’s Bekasi chapter.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on Tuesday ordered police to find the attackers and condemned the violence, but critics say he has done little to bring such vigilante groups to heel or order their disbandment.

The attack prompted outrage among pluralists in the predominantly Muslim country and served as a shocking reminder to many Indonesians, especially minority Christians, of the risks of a return to the deadly sectarian violence seen last decade.

The country’s increased political, social and economic stability has led investors to pour into its stock and long-dated bond markets in the past 18 months, but religious conflict remains a potential destabilising factor.

“In the longer term it will have an impact, that’s why the government must act now,” said Wimar Witoelar, a political analyst.

“Is the government for or against this religious intolerance or a chief of police not acting to preserve law and order? If this drags on and on, investors will look for other places with a better investment climate.”