December 7, 2020 Faith Matters

Indonesian police kill six supporters of firebrand cleric

Indonesian police have shot dead six followers of a firebrand cleric who returned last month from a three-year exile in Saudi Arabia after criminal charges against him were dropped.

Jakarta Police Chief Muhammad Fadil Imran said officers were following a car carrying 10 supporters of Rizieq Shihab, the leader of the Islamic Defenders Front, early on Monday morning. He said the followers attacked the police with guns and swords, threatening the officers’ safety.

“The officers then took firm and measured action so that six died from the group of 10 people,” he said at a news conference. He did not give further details of the violence.

An official of the Islamic Defenders Front, Ahmad Shabri Lubis, gave a different account, saying that Mr Shihab and his family were heading to a place to deliver a sermon and that guards travelling with them had been shot.

“On their way to the sermon location, the group was intercepted by unknown people that we strongly believed were part of an operational group to stalk and harm him. Those unknown people stopped and did the shooting of the family guards,” Mr Lubis said.

Mr Imran said police had been scheduled to interrogate Mr Shihab on Monday morning over an alleged violation of coronavirus health regulations during his daughter’s wedding reception on November 14, and they had received information about plans for a mass mobilisation of his supporters at Jakarta police headquarters during his questioning.

As of Monday evening, Mr Shihab had not appeared for the questioning, his second police summons after an earlier one last Tuesday.

Mr Shihab was welcomed by tens of thousands of followers when he returned to Indonesia from exile on November 10. He had left Indonesia in 2017 to go on an umrah, or minor pilgrimage, to Mecca shortly after police charged him in a pornography case and with allegedly insulting the official state ideology, Pancasila.

Police dropped both charges last year due to weak evidence, but authorities in Saudi Arabia had banned him from leaving the country without any explanation.

His return comes as Islamist forces are gaining political strength in Indonesia.

The Islamic Defenders Front was once on the political fringes and has a long record of vandalising nightspots, hurling stones at Western embassies and attacking rival religious groups. It wants Islamic Shariah law to apply to Indonesia’s 230 million Muslims.

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