Probe of Attack on Indonesian Church Leaders Leads to 10 Arrests

Police in Indonesia have arrested ten suspects in connection to Sunday's attack of two church leaders, authorities reported Wednesday.

Among the ten is Murhali Barda, head of the Islamic Defenders Front (FPI)'s chapter in Bekasi, who police brought in for questioning on Tuesday.

Barda is suspected of inciting Sunday's attack on the Rev. Luspida Simandjunktak and church elder Hasean Lumbantoruan Sihombing, who were ambushed as they were going to church around 9 a.m.

After stabbing Sihombing and striking Simandjuntak on the head with a wooden plank, the seven or so attackers reportedly fled the scene on their motorcycles. Both church leaders were then rushed to Mitra Keluarga Hospital in East Bekasi for treatment – Sihombing admitted in a serious condition and Luspida with a concussion.

According to reports, Sihombing remains in critical condition.

The attacks prompted a quick response from Indonesia's president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who immediately called on authorities to investigate and hold accountable those responsible.

Yudhoyono, who relies heavily on Islamic parties in parliament, has been widely criticized for failing to crack down on Islamic hard-liners, who were immediately suspected of carrying out Sunday's attacks.

While most people in Indonesia practice a moderate form of Islam and abhor violence, attacks on religious freedom by hard-liners have been steadily increasing, according to human rights groups.

According to the Setara Institute for Peace and Democracy, there have been 64 incidents this year, ranging from physical abuse to preventing groups from performing prayers and burning houses of worship. In 2009, there were only 18, and in 2008 only 17.

Earlier this month, members from the same church as Sunday's attack victims - Huria Kristen Batak Protestan (HKBP) - were also assaulted. According to reports, at least 300 members of the Islamic People's Forum and the Islamic Defenders Front broke through a police barricade on Aug. 8 and ordered 20 members of the HKBP church meeting in Ciketing.

When the church members refused, the protesters reportedly assaulted the group with sticks, stones or their bare hands. Some of the church members required hospital treatment.

The previous Sunday, around 300 Muslim protesters and 300 police officers surrounded members of the HKBP as they worshiped in the open field, and one protester hit Pastor Simanjuntak on the cheek, reported Compass Direct News.

For around years now, the 1,500-large HKBP has been waiting for local officials to respond to a building permit application filed in 2006. When Muslim neighbors in December 2009 objected to the meetings in a housing complex on the grounds that the church had no permit, officials banned church members from meeting there.

With its building permit application delayed, the church disregarded the ban, leading officials to seal the building on June 20.

About two weeks later, Bekasi Mayor Mochtar Mohammad reportedly said he would allow the congregation to meet in public areas or at the city hall. Simanjuntak, in response, moved worship to the proposed building site.

HKBP has since filed a case against the Bekasi administration, insisting that government officials must grant a permit to the church for its Christian activities in accordance with the constitutional rights of all Indonesians

In addition to being the world's third-largest democracy and the world's largest archipelagic state, Indonesia is home to the world's largest Muslim population.

Muslims account for 86.1 percent of Indonesia's population of 240 million. Protestant Christians, meanwhile, account for 5.7 percent, and Roman Catholics 3 percent.

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