Police Probe Knife Assault on Christians

JAKARTA

Police were questioning nine people on Monday in relation to an armed assault on Christian worshippers that left one man seriously wounded and a priest with head injuries.

Members of the congregation said a group of men on motorcycles launched the unprovoked attack on church elders on Sunday as they were going to hold a service in an area of Jakarta that has seen months of religious tension.

One man described as a church elder was knifed in the stomach while Reverend Luspida Simandjuntak, who tried to help the wounded man, was bashed in the head with a plank of wood.

The attack came during the Muslim festival at the end of the holy month of Ramadan and after a US pastor provoked global Muslim outrage with threats — since withdrawn — to burn copies of the Koran.

“A police task force is investigating this matter,” national police spokesman Marwoto Soeto said.

“We’ve questioned nine witnesses. We haven’t arrested any suspects yet. There had been conflicts previously after the local residents rejected having a church built there.”

The investigation was still in its early stages but there was no evidence that the attackers had religious motives, he said.

“At this point, we consider this attack purely criminal. We have yet to establish any link to Muslim groups. And no, there’s no link to the Koran burning issue,” he said.

Nelson Sitorus, an official from the protestant church group apparently targeted, said the attackers were clearly Muslims, who form 80 percent of Indonesia’s 240-million population.

“If the police say that the attack was purely criminal, they’re confused and wrong. They don’t have all the facts,” he said.

“We can’t say if the attackers were from a specific Muslim group but they were wearing Muslim caps and Islamic shirts.”

The authorities have done little if anything to stop Islamic radicals and vigilante groups from attacking members of the Bekasi church group on the outskirts of Jakarta.

Local Muslims say the Christians do not have the required community approval to build a church in the area, leaving members of the congregation to hold services in the open where they are regularly abused and threatened.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who depends on Islamic parties for political support, issued a statement last Friday condemning the US pastor’s planned Koran burning and saying Indonesia stood for religious tolerance.

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