Indonesian Christians under Threat of Terrorist Attack during Christmas Season

As Indonesian Police started to step up security measures against attacks targeted on churches and Christians at Christmas season, Christians yet complained authorities' indifference to ongoing persecutions.

Indonesia’s police force began to step up security measures to guard against attacks targeted on churches and Christians at Christmas season, as Christians made public their complaints over the authorities’ indifference to ongoing persecutions.

Indonesian national police Chief General Sutanto issued a nationwide order last Thursday to step up security measures around churches and other public buildings against possible terrorist attacks that might occur during the Christmas season, according to a report by Italy-based AsiaNews.

The call comes in the wake of the horrific beheadings and shootings in the religiously divided Poso region of Central Sulawesi over the last three weeks.

Late last month, three Christian teenage girls were beheaded by a group of five masked men riding on motorcycle on their way to school. In less than ten days after the triple murder, two more girls were shot in the same area on Nov. 8 with one of dying despite the 1,000-man troop sent by Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to secure the troubled city.

Although it has not yet been proved whether or not the two incidents were related, a written note found alongside with the heads of the three slain girls warning that "another 100 Christian teenagers would be killed" has alarmed the police.

In response to the security alert of the police at Christmas and the New Year, U.S.-based human rights group International Christian Concern (ICC) criticized the Indonesian authorities for "making no progress and even abetting other forms of persecution against Christians across Indonesia."

According to a statement from ICC, the security measures are "needed, appreciated and wonderful," but they do not address the real problem, pointing out that the problem lies on the government and legal system.

"Approximately 40 violent incidents, including assassinations, stabbings and bombings, directed at Christians in the Poso area in the last two years that have passed without arrests or convictions," ICC noted. Even worse, as the investigation for the recent beheadings of three girls was underway, ICC said the Indonesian Army released the suspects after the seven-day mandatory detention period and later re-arrested by the police unit.

ICC said there is a reason to suspect the alleged "government collusion" behind the persecutions.

"In West Java, there have been approximately 60 Christian Church closings in the last six months. Islamic militants work with police and civil servants to close down churches," ICC claimed, saying it has the documents that prove the fact.

In the world’s most populous Islamic country, Indonesian Christians continue to face discrimination in the legislation. For instance, while Muslims worship freely regardless of time or location, "since Christians cannot obtain permits to build churches, they are forced to worship in homes, businesses or hotels in violation of the SKB-69 law (Joint Decree regulating houses of worship),” ICC stated.

The human rights group expressed disappointment over the Indonesian government’s strong pronouncements of protection for the Christian minority, as "there have been little concrete results."

In conclusion, ICC said, "In order to effect change on a government where many key leaders are radical Muslims themselves, there must be a concerted effort by the international community to shine the light on this egregious situation."

Until last Saturday, Indonesian police announced four suspects were under investigation on suspicion of their involvement in the beheadings involving three girls, according to Agence France Presse (AFP).

Most recently, the violence has even spread to the capital of Central Sulawesi. The Indonesia newspaper Jakarta Post reported that a university lecturer and his wife were shot in Palu on last Saturday evening as they made their way home from a church service.

According to AsiaNews, the Palu police blamed criminals for "directing their actions in other areas after failing to reignite interfaith conflict in Poso," adding the attack was "orchestrated by an organized mafia."

As part of the security measures for Christmas holidays, Indonesian police will be setting up country-wide checkpoints and requiring village chiefs to report the presence of any outsiders that spend more than 24 hours in their communities. In addition, police in Jakarta are taking an inventory of which churches are holding Christmas and New Year's celebrations in order to send out the appropriate security forces, sources say.