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REPORT — December 26, 2001

INDONESIA: “BLOODY CHRISTMAS” AVERTED

Indonesia’s Christians filled churches in record numbers during Christmas services this week as the threat of a “Bloody Christmas” passed without incident. Unlike the past two years, no churches were bombed in Jakarta or any other cities. Attacks against Christian villages in central Sulawesi and the Malukan islands have, at least for now, subsided. We praise God for His answer to the prayers of Christians throughout the world who responded to the call for help following an ICC trip to the Poso region on the island of Sulawesi at the end of November. As many as 15,000 armed “Jihad” militants were threatening to “kill all the Christians.” At least 21 villages were attacked, looted and burned by mostly Muslims militants who claimed to be members of the Laskar Jihad. ICC president Steven Snyder witnessed wide-spread destruction along the road to Tentena, a city of 63,000. Nearly half the population of Tentena consists of refugees from within the Poso region. In early December, Christians in Tentena were under siege and had no way of defending themselves as they awaited for what seemed to them to be inevitable – the imminent destruction and slaughter of thousands of men, women and children. The Christians were surrounded and had no way of escape. Along the road to Tentena, “Jihad” checkpoints had been set up by the Laskar Jihad, with many bearing photos of Osama bin Laden with inscriptions saying “Our Leader.” Fortunately, in early December, the Indonesian government ordered 4,000 military troops into the Poso region earlier this month, which was the first indication that the government may be willing to help stop terrorism from spreading inside the country. However, the supreme commander of the Laskar Jihad, Jafar Umar Thalib has had direct contact with Afghanistan militants and he has gone unpunished for his role in inciting Muslims to join the attacks against the Christians. Thalib had trained with the Taliban in the 1980’s in Afghanistan. This past summer, Thalib received a guest from the Taliban at his headquarters in Ambon and introduced him to the Governor of Ambon, Governor Latuconsinia. It has become more clear recently weeks that Thalib shares the ideological beliefs of bin Laden, which includes establishing in Indonesia an Islamic state with laws based on strict Islamic laws. Nevertheless, the majority of Indonesia’s Christians are opposed to the ambitions of Thalib and other Muslim militants. Approximately 85 percent of Indonesia’s population of 210 million people are Muslim, with the vast majority holding moderate views.

Even though the Jihad forces were prevented from carrying out their planned attack on Tentena, the threat of renewed attacks on the Christians in Sulawesi remains high. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Christians are without shelter and basic necessities.